A Matter of Trust
Chapter 1

Caution: This Romantic Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Consensual, NonConsensual, Drunk/Drugged, Heterosexual, Humor, Cheating, Slow,

Desc: Romantic Sex Story: Chapter 1 - A wife who is adamant about fidelity cheats. An honest man lies and lies and lies. Getting fired seems like the unluckiest thing that can happen to Jeff - or is it an opportunity? How do you rank lucky events? Heck, how can you even recognize their true nature at the time?

A poet once wrote: "For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: 'It might have been'"

Of course that poet had never heard his wife say, "We have to talk."

But first things first. I am Jeff Grundvig, and I lost my job on August 23, 2007. At the time I thought that it was one of the worst things that could happen to me, just short of the accidental deaths of my mom and dad several years ago.

In the short term it was the least of my worries. In the long term it might have been the second luckiest thing that would ever happen to me.

It was the least of my worries, because of what had been going on between me and my wife Stacy. We were nearing the six-year mark, and we were not doing well. I had no idea why, but our daily routine had become just that: routine.

I had tried to get a handle on it about a week or so before I got canned. We were cleaning up the kitchen after another less-than-communicative dinner. As had become our usual, we were both silent.

I have to say that I'm not the most observant guy in the world, but even I could see the stiffness of her body. It was if she was bracing herself just to be around me. And now that I saw that so clearly, it dawned on me that she'd been like that for months.

That chilled me. Why? What had gone wrong?

At last I said "Stacy? Can I ask you something?" She put the last dish into the dishwasher and turned with a questioning look.

"Honey, what is it? What have I done? It's obvious that I must have done something that's pissed you off? There's been something very wrong between us for months, and I have no clue what brought it on."

For a long second she looked at me with a strange expression. I had the fleeting feeling that she was biting back something she wanted to say. But the feeling and the moment passed and her expression went neutral.

She shrugged and said, "Jeff, get a grip. There's nothing wrong between us or with our marriage. Get realistic. All marriages get a little bland and routine after a while. It can't stay all honeymoonish forever."

Well I knew that. But it didn't have to be that way, I thought, and I told her that. I wanted to make an effort to rev it up, to bring back a little bit of that old excitement. But she waved her hand dismissively and said she was fine with the way things were. As we continued to get the house locked up and ready for the night, I thought I could see her darting glances at me when she thought I wasn't looking.

When we were going to bed later, she delayed climbing in for a few seconds. She stood there in her sheer sexy nightgown, looking at me, seemingly pensive. But then she laid herself down and pushed against me with a hot hungry mouth and searching fingers. We made love with an intensity that had been missing for months. I was made content. For a while.

That was typical Stacy, a person of contradictions. Stacy was, by nature and unhappy experience, a reserved and aloof woman. She was markedly like that when I first met her, both of us burned by previous marriages to unfaithful spouses.

We met at work, Amalgamated Conglomerates Corporation, AGC for short. I manage the Technical Literature Support Group. Well. I used to manage it. And I do again, sort of. Only not so much manage as ... well, I'll explain that later.

AGC is a cobbled together clump of a number of companies, the result of a binge of acquisitions and takeovers during the '90's. Because of that history, we, that is AGC, make a lot of widgets and provide varied services.

For almost every widget of any complexity there are operator's manuals and parts lists, and service manuals, and installation guides, and so on. For most services there are user's manuals and reference guides and tons of brochures. It was ... it had been my job to keep all that technical literature up-to-date and in stock, and to get the publications out to service reps and clients who asked for them.

It was Technical Literature, called TechLit, for short. Everything had to be reduced to a short name or acronym; some kind of law, I guess. AGC set a high premium on customer support, and TechLit was considered to be very important for customer satisfaction. And I thought my little two-person group did a damned fine job.

When I first went to work in the TechLit Support Group, Stacy had been my secretary. Well, secretary was a misnomer. She had really been my all-around assistant. Someone up in the higher echelons was uncomfortable with the notion of a manager with one person to manage. But there were managers with secretaries who had no one else reporting to them. Odd, but true.

I do my own letters and such, and answer my phone, so the secretarial title was a dodge. Stacy was there to help me do my job. I ran the big picture; she followed through with the details. It took two people to do the job, and both people had a full day's worth of to- do's every day.

We were both pretty lonely when we started working together. I was like a drunk who had taken the pledge, only in my case it was against women. I had vowed "Never again," after my crippling, near-neutering marriage to Nicci Stempler.

Never again would I let a woman get me by the gonads. From bitter experience I knew that when she rips them out, the heart comes out too. It's funny; you wouldn't think that such small things would have tendrils that go way up into your chest. But they must, because I could feel the hollowness after the Cardioectomy. I swear I could hear the wind blow through it on cold lonely wintry nights.

Yes, I was a hollow, angry, wary man. Recreational sex was the only level of relationship I was interested in, and my occasional partners were like-minded, or they were gone. At least that's what I said, and what I thought I believed.

So how did we wind up married? Well, someone once wrote about how the heart has its reasons that the mind doesn't understand. And most men and women are simply not meant to be alone. At least that's my reluctant conclusion.

See, despite my steely resolve, I found that I couldn't keep from reluctantly thinking about Stacy when I was away from her, and covertly eying her when we worked together. She was very attractive, but as I said before, aloof and wary. Her attitude was like mine, only more so. She dressed down for a severe look that hid her figure. She wore no makeup and hid her pretty face behind big glasses.

Her story, which came out slowly, was that once upon a time she had met, fallen for, and married a hunk. Unfortunately, the hunk turned out to be a cheater, and four years into their marriage, she caught him in the sack, hunking with one of her friends. At the end of that story she had sworn off men.

Sound familiar?

I was gun-shy too for similar reasons.

When I first got into the job market after a stint in the Navy and then college, I took an offer from a firm in a small town. While there I met...

and then married...

and then was betrayed by...

and then fled from a woman who could be on the recruiting poster for unfaithful wives. I wound up here in Endicott City

I found work as a Tech Writer/Editor. Seven years ago, the firm I was with lost their contract and I lost my job. I went down to the State Employment Office to apply for unemployment. I never collected a penny of it, because their referral service sent me to interview for an opening at AGC, and I jumped at it.

I was in the Writing/Editing section of the Publications department, merrily writing and revising TechLit when the current TechLit Manager got careless and greedy and got caught scamming the company on his expense forms. AGC took a dim view of that. They fired him, and asked me to come down to the front office for a little talk with a guy named Harley something-or-other. Harley ran the Pubs department, which included both Writing/Editing and TechLit. He was heavyset, balding, and not that impressive-looking, but he was sharp. Two minutes of conversation showed me that.

In the Navy we would say that he had all his shit in one sock. (Yes, I know it doesn't make sense. A lot of stuff we said in the Navy didn't make sense. You had to be there.)

We chatted for a few minutes, nothing very specific, but it seemed like he was feeling me out. It was nothing at all like a formal interview, much less a job interview, and yet the upshot was that he promoted me to TechLit Manager, and I inherited Stacy as my assistant.

Harley moved up a few years later and they brought in a new guy to replace him. I was decidedly uninterested in AGC politics and paid no attention to who was where in the hierarchy. A few years later they promoted that guy, whose name I don't even remember. He had his secretary pass on any edicts. Her name was Amanda, if I remember rightly. It could have been Brunhilde; she would have made a helluva Valkyrie.

About two years ago, they promoted the guy who'd replaced no-name guy and decided to reorganize the support functions, and that was how I wound up working for Cedric Jennings. The reorganization kept him away from the big functions, and even I suspected that was no accident. He had TechLit and a few other piddling little groups. It was a fairly small domain for a manager, and I swear that it looked like the idea was to minimize the potential damage that he could do. Seemed like a strange way to run a business. Why have him as a manager at all if he was apparently so incompetent?

He spent most of his time kissing his boss's ass and buttering up some of the other executives. I had no idea why they let him hung around with that level of management. I appreciated that they did, because that meant I had to spend less time with him, explaining over and over why his ideas for TechLit were stupid.

In a nice way, of course.

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Obviously, Stacy and I spent a lot of time together on the job, and after a long period of standoffishness, she slowly, slowly began to open up. At first it was verbal.

We went from "Good morning Miss Markey / Good morning Mister Grundvig" to "Hi, Stacy / Hello, Jeff."

Then we began to get more comfortable around each other and I began to get to know her a little. And despite her marital disaster and her foreswearing mankind, I came to suspect that behind that cold fa├žade she was lonely and a little bit frightened. As I said before, most men and women are not meant to be alone.

Unfortunately, her immediate reaction to any interest from a man was to stiffen up and shut down. Despite her good looks, there weren't many guys who could sustain an interest in her, given her coldness and lack of response.

Despite my own demons, I could not resist becoming interested in her. But unlike the pussy hounds, I was interested in her for more than her body. We talked on the job between busy times. We ate our sandwiches and swapped our sad stories. We talked about honesty. We talked about fidelity, and how neither of us had broken our vows or ever would. We had been on the other side and knew all too well the pain that infidelity created.

I liked a loose work environment and so we started joking around, first me, and then her giving it right back. It was innocuous and occasionally juvenile, but it loosened both of us up. Finally I asked her out on a real date. She got up and practically ran to the Ladies rest room. When she finally came out, she said she was scared. She said that she was being honest. That she liked me, but that she was afraid of making another mistake. I said that was the same for me, too, but that I still wanted to see her.

Stacy looked down at her shoes and shyly said, "I'd like that too, Jeff."

Now, unlike her Ex, I was not exactly what you'd call a hunk. I'm about 5 feet 9. I seem a bit shorter, because of the stocky build I inherited from my dad. Strong legs, broad butt, wide shoulders, and a barrel chest, that's me. So I look shorter. Ok, ok, so I lied. I am shorter. Maybe 5 feet 8 ... and a half. I'm neither handsome nor ugly, just pretty ordinary in the looks department. I'm not a likely candidate to be anyone's Prince Charming, certainly not a looker like Stacy. But see, she'd already done the hunky Prince Charming thing. Been there, done that and had the broken heart to show for it. I had to assume that she was a bit more realistic about what's important and what's not.

Or so it seemed to me at that time.

We started to date on the QT, partly because it was against company policy, and more because we didn't want anyone to know. We didn't need comments or pressure from anyone outside of the two of us; we had enough personal demons to deal with.

We moved from casual to interested, to involved. Finally, one day I confessed my feelings for her. I told her I wanted to take our relationship to the next level and make love with her. She said she felt the sexual attraction as well, but she was afraid of making another mistake.

We danced around it for several weeks and ultimately decided to get together. We were tentative in our love-making at first, but we both found pleasure and fulfillment in it. We gradually lowered the rest of our barriers. I had a strong growing feeling for her, and eventually I told her I loved her and asked her to marry me.

Well, I was ahead of her on that. She pulled back and put me off. She said she had feelings for me, but still was afraid of getting into something that wouldn't last and getting hurt again. She said that if she ever got married again, she would be 100 percent faithful, and she wanted to be absolutely certain that her partner felt the same. I guess I did a pretty good job of convincing her, because eventually she said yes, she would be happy to marry me.

I was like: "Oh frabjous day, callooh, callay!" I thought I was the happiest formerly gun- shy man in the world.

That was six years ago.

Fast forward to recently. For a long time, we still had the physical side going pretty well. We were practiced and caring, and it went way beyond mere sex. We settled into maybe three or four times a week, with lots of oral involved both as foreplay and as an end in itself.

It was good, but, well, recently sometimes Stacy wasn't always really there in some way. Oh, she liked the sex ok, no doubt about that, but it got to be that once we were done, she was done with me. Just a quick rollover and right to sawing wood. Very guy-like.

Well, I'm embarrassed to admit it, but I guess I'm a girly-man kind of guy, in that I like the after-sex cuddling. I thought that was part of it. Stacy did too, at first. When we were first married, we wound up wrapped around each other when we fell asleep; it was very important to both of us. Now, if I persisted, she sometimes got snappish and irritated.

It crossed my mind that Nicci had been like that too. Wild free sex and then just roll over to get away from me.

Stacy told me over and over that she was happy and comfortable in our relationship. Well, maybe so, and I was glad to hear it, but actions speak louder than words. It was getting so that sometimes I wondered if she even really liked me anymore. Forget about loving me, did she really even like me, other than in bed. I wondered. She said she was comfortable and trusted me, but I worried about the rest of her feelings toward me.

And then we had that little after dinner conversation, the one in which she got the strange expression and almost said something, but stopped. And after which we went to bed and made better love than we had had in a long time.

I kept getting the sense that we were living a semi-parallel pair of semi-detached life- styles. It wasn't my idea. I kept seeking togetherness. But Stacy seemed to want to keep some of Stacy to herself. Some of that old aloofness had come back. But that had been a defense mechanism. What was she defending herself from now? Me?

I began to wonder if there was some deficiency in me that I couldn't keep a woman happy. First Nicci, and now ... Stacy?

About one year before the conversation and the hot lovemaking and the next-day canning, there was a time when Stacy's love-making altered and became almost bipolar.

Later, when Gloria and I began to piece it all together, I realized that it began after she had gone back to work in the AGC travel office.

Who's Gloria? I'll tell you in a bit. And no, I didn't cheat with her. Well, not intentionally, and neither of us had any idea of cheating. Hell, she'd have smacked me silly for even thinking about making a pass! Whether she had feelings for me or not was beside the point. I was married!

Back to the bipolar thing. When Stacy and I actually made love, it didn't seem much different than before; we were used to each other's wants and needs. I always tried to meet hers and that usually led to meeting most of mine. But we weren't doing it as often, and the drought seemed to come in batches.

One week we might make love three or four times. And it would be full-bore lovemaking with all the trimmings.

Then there would come a string of nights on weeks when she worked late. I could understand her being tired. But she had worked late many times before and had come home horny. Maybe she would just let me go down on her to where she climaxed. I didn't have to get off every time, you see? It was a way of showing my love for her.

But now, she didn't even want that, where all she had to do was lie there.

Come Monday night and Stacy would grimace and hold herself apart and say she was too tired.

Then Tuesday, she'd say she had cramps, but it wasn't anywhere near her monthly. Then it might be a sudden Wednesday night headache. Then the next night something else; I don't know, the vapors, or the collywobbles, or the marthambles. She developed complaints that aren't even in the damned dictionary.

Or she'd complain that all I thought about was sex, like I was a sex fiend. What the complaint was didn't really matter. These afflictions only came on at nighttime and she would always have miraculously recovered by next morning. But they had the effect that we'd go the whole week without sex.

Then Monday would come and the complaints were gone. She'd be rubbing up against me and being apologetic for last week and said she'd make it up to me. And she would.

Well, I had no clue, but I wanted to believe it was just some phase she was going through. How early does menopause come, anyway? I was 37; she was 33. That sounded awfully young for menopause.

It wasn't one week on and one week off either, nothing that regular. In fact, there seemed to be no real pattern.

I tried to ignore it. Not to be too crude about it, but I had learned never to look a gift pussy in the mouth. Or something like that. On the other hand, why should my wife's favors be gifts? I mean, it would be very PC and New Sensibility to put it like that, but it didn't seem right. Love-making was a mutual thing, wasn't it?

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Then came the date that will live in infamy, August 23rd: the date I was terminated from AGC.

I realized in hindsight that it was my own fault. I had been incredibly stupid. I had told the truth.

What a Maroon! What was I thinking?

What I did was say that my secretary, Gloria Halop, could do my job. I said it to the other managers in a joking manner because I was proud of her.

I'd hired Gloria to replace Stacy, who had quit so we could come out in the open and get married. No dummy, Stacy had insisted on checking Gloria out before I hired her.

Stacy met Gloria for lunch and had passed her as no threat.

I could understand her thinking, looking at the two women objectively.

Stacy was very pretty, a total knockout, the whole fantasy package, once she came out of her shell and started dressing to show herself off.

Gloria was short and plump, with an open pleasant face. She was built pretty substantially, with a large bosom and rear end. The Yiddish term "zaftig" fitted her. If she had been four or five inches taller, you would have said she had a nice womanly hour-glass figure. The old turn-of-the-century - Lillian Russell look.

No, the previous century, I mean.

Lillian Russell. Look it up.

In the normal, everyday way of things, Gloria had an intelligent, pleasant face. However, when she was happy, her smile transformed her. Smiling, she looked very appealing. That was my first impression when I'd interviewed her, that winsome smile. She was well-qualified and had an energetic upbeat personality. We weren't twenty minutes into the interview when I stopped saying things conditionally and spoke of what she was going to be doing. She realized that I was going to offer her the job, and she just beamed.

When I first hired her, I signed off on her W-4 paperwork and thought she had made a mistake by listing four exemptions. But I checked the Manager's manual and learned that you can do that if your tax situation is such that you didn't need all of the FICA taxes deducted, such as if you have heavy deductions for medical or whatever. The number of exemptions is a crude tool for setting how much withholding you really need so as to be square with Uncle Sam on April fifteenth. You could put down 20 exemptions as long as it works out on Tax day. So I didn't say anything about it to her.

When she reported aboard she was all business and I saw little of that winsome smile in those first days. My efforts to get her to loosen up made her look at me warily. I wasn't trying to get anything going. God, I would never have even thought of cheating on Stacy.

But I liked a certain loose collegial relationship at work and initially Gloria wasn't comfortable with certain aspects of that. She would just get quiet, stare at me with a kind of stubborn look and pull back. I swear it was innocent stuff, mostly verbal. I was familiar with those Sexual Harassment at Work videos and went to those in-house seminars, and nothing I ever broached would raise a ripple of concern. But Gloria had her own personal boundaries, and I learned to respect them quick, fast, and in a hurry, as the saying goes.

I tried to respect her privacy about her personal life. I suspected that she had some personal aspects of her life that she preferred to keep to herself; as she never spoke much about home. So I tried to respect her boundaries. And after a time, I think she realized that and appreciated my restraint. We got along better. And as she got more comfortable with me, she lightened up a little bit.

So, as I said, I had praised Gloria and said she could do my job. And someone, probably someone who was not a fan of mine, had told my asshole boss, Cedric Jennings, what I'd said about how Gloria could run the whole show. I had meant it, but in a general sense.

She really couldn't do both jobs by herself. Hell, neither could I; not for the long haul; there was just too much to get done each day. Hers was the detailed nuts-and-bolts planning and follow-up, mine was more the overall planning and oversight and customer schmoozing. Gloria had little experience with much of that. Plus I had the conn when desperation-time problems popped up and needed desperation troubleshooting. That was beyond her at this point. I was one of Gloria's biggest fans, and I knew that with experience she would become able to do those things. Hell, part of my job was to teach her to succeed me. Or at least that's the way I saw it.

But for a brief time, sure, Gloria understood the essentials of both parts and could keep things going.

Hell, after six years together, I would have been disappointed if she couldn't. She was even better at it than Stacy had ever been, to be truthful.

I didn't know much about Gloria's personal life; as I said, she was guarded about it. I knew she was 30 and single and lived with her mother. From some little bits of information, I came to believe that her mother was in poor health. Gloria had to take time off every few weeks to take her mother to medical appointments. Even with AGC's very good medical coverage, there were co-pays and non-covered medical expenses that could take a bite out of your income when there were chronic health problems.

I figured that accounted for the extra withholding exemptions.

Our working relationship was friendly, but she was adamant about doing anything outside of work. Hell she wouldn't even let me take her out for an occasional lunch, not even to the place just up the road where lots of people from AGC go. No one even thinking about hanky-panky would do it in front of a gaggle of colleagues. And of course going out for a dinner was out of the question. She would let me pay for delivered lunches and dinners when we were working on a crash project.

One other thing about Gloria; she was everyone's friend. That woman knew at least 75% of the people in the office and down in the industrial area where we were situated. She had a network of girlfriends everywhere. That's what she did for lunch: met with her gal pals.

That also gave her a reason for ducking my luncheon invitations. Not that I was ever trying to play her, you understand. It was just that I was used to eating out with colleagues once in a while.

Well, I see that I am straying off the track here.

On August 23rd, I had no warning. Just as I was thinking about going out to grab a quick lunch by myself, my jerk boss Cedric Jennings called me into his office. I did think it was odd that he told me to bring along my laptop.

He told me to close the door.

"Jeff, you've been a pretty good employee," he smarmed, "But we are being squeezed by rising costs, and frankly, your salary makes you a good target for contraction. There's no good way to say this. I'm laying you off with two weeks pay in lieu of notice."

Well I was surprised, but I didn't waste my time to try to argue with him and bargain for my job. Cedric is a horrible combination: a crappy manager and a rigid manager all rolled up around asshole. Most times it was damned near impossible to get a decision out of him. But on those rare occasions when he did make a decision, he camped down on it. I guess it was the novelty of actually having made one.

He had the termination checkout list in front of him, and relieved me of my keys, my ID badge, and my Corporate American Express card. He told me I had fifteen minutes to download any personal files off my AGC-issued laptop. He had a couple of blank CDs handy (which I later learned were deducted from my termination check. What a sweetheart!)

Then he watched me, supposedly to make sure I wasn't copying off corporate secrets or proprietary information. As if he would even know what any of that looked like! As I worked he read from a cheat sheet about how I was bound by the Employment Agreement I'd signed when I first came to work back in 2001. It covered me while at AGC and after I was gone from AGC.

Under the dead hand of the EA, I couldn't spill company secrets. Any creative properties that I'd developed while at AGC were the property of the company, blah, blah, blah. I'd heard scuttlebutt that most of that EA stuff was hard to enforce legally, so I didn't pay much attention. I was busy thinking how this was going to go over with Stacy.

At the end, I signed to show that I had been briefed. I also signed a sheaf of HR paperwork about carrying over some of my insurance benefits under the COBRA laws.

Oh, and if you thought that this whole thing takes the cake, THIS just puts the cherry on top of the frosting of that cake; my time officially on the payroll that day ended just before he called me into his office. I got fired and processed out on my own time! Sweet!

He called in two waiting security guards to escort me to my desk. It was something like the Rogue's March from those old movies, when an officer was busted out of the Army. I guess if I had epaulets, he'd have tried to rip them off. For a fleeting moment I wished that I did have epaulets. I'd have let him rip one off. Then I'd have ripped his damned face off and stuffed it up his ass.

Well, I didn't have epaulets, and he didn't rip one off, and I ... well, I didn't get to do all that good stuff. That was just my futile fantasy.

See, I knew why he was rubbing it in. I'd not tried very hard to hide my opinion of Cedric. He was a living example of a political appointee. He had no idea of what my job entailed, but both of us knew I could probably do his, and do it better.

I was pissed at the whole escort thing. It was done that way to embarrass me, the bastard!

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When me and my entourage marched up to my office, Gloria was putting the last of the personal items from my desk into copy paper boxes. She was crying.

"Oh, God Jeff, I'm so sorry!" she cried. "I can't believe this. Mr. Jennings told me to pack your personal items from your desk, and that you were being terminated."

The larger of the two security guards brusquely ordered her to be quiet. There was to be no talking with the terminated associate, he said.

Well, that snapped me out of my passivity. I turned toward him and away from security guard Number 2, who happened to be a guy I went to school with, name of Olly.

I pushed my face into Number 1's. He was taller and bigger than me, but I didn't give a crap at that point. He wasn't expecting any pushback, and leaned back a tad. I said, "Listen, pal, you do not talk to Gloria like that, understand?"

Now, I'm not a big guy, the way these two were. But I'm fairly strong and in good shape, and I learned a few things in the Navy about handling myself in a fight. Olly was a big guy, but he was not a hard big guy. If it came to it, I was pretty sure I could hold my own with him.

But it wouldn't come to that, because I had done him and his missus a few favors over the years. Hell, I had been his reference when he applied for this security job. He'd gotten careless at his old job and got caught goofing off. I talked to him and judged that he had learned his lesson. So I'd endorsed his application.

After that, when her firm cut back, I'd endorsed his wife Sophie for a job in Human Resources.

With that on my side, I knew he was not going to give me any problem, as long as I kept this within bounds.

I noted that Number 1 wore a wedding ring, and his nametag said "O'Bannon." I said, "Look, O'Bannon, you aren't impressing anyone trying to be a hard-ass. Olly knows me, and he'll tell you I'm a square shooter.

"Suppose your wife was having a miserable time at work and was crying, and then someone barked at her like you just talked to Gloria. How would you feel about that?" I saw his eyes widen at that image.

"I'll be gone from here and out of your hair in ten minutes," I said. "But if you don't back off with Gloria and me, I'll be waiting for you outside the main gate tonight. You're a big guy, but I've fought bigger."

I didn't bother to tell him that they had usually kicked my ass.

I had not so much as raised my voice. But I think O'Bannon realized I was deadly serious. I don't think any of my tough talk intimidated him, but I think it made him take a step back and think. He looked at Gloria and I figured he was thinking about his wife, and what I'd said and how she'd have felt and how he'd have felt about that.

I saw him look at Olly, and I'm sure that Olly was mutely telling him to back off. So he did. He shrugged and moved to stand by Olly.

That gave me a little time to talk to Gloria. I was worried about her. I knew she was supporting her mother as well as herself. "Gloria, are you going to be OK? Is it just me he's axing or... ?"

"Thanks Jeff. I think I'm ok. He said he needed to have a meeting with me once you were gone, but it didn't sound threatening or anything like that. He said something about how he would need my help. He's ... he's such a jerk!

"Oh Jeff, this just sucks! I feel terrible for you."

I figured by then she'd be ok. As far as Cedric knew, there were only two people at AGC who knew how to do what we did. I was gone and Gloria was the last one standing. Certainly Cedric didn't know squat about TechLit Support. He bragged on himself as being a big picture guy. Which means that he had no idea of the nuts and bolts operations.

The only thing he did know was that when people didn't get their TechLit pubs or got the wrong TechLit pubs, they screamed to higher management, who frowned at him. Without Gloria, Cedric would be deep in the shits, and not even Cedric could be so dense that he didn't know that.

We finished packing the third box. I thought, Damn, that's too much junk to have accumulated in six plus years. It was not just from my desk; I had stuff on bookshelves and in a taboret behind my desk.

Olly helped me stack and secure the boxes on a rolling cart and the two guards followed me as I wheeled it down the corridor. There was a pretty good complement of folks at their desks, considering it was still during the nominal lunch hour. It was like running a gauntlet of my former fellow workers, most of whom looked pretty shocked. Oh, I had a few enemies who were enjoying seeing me taken down, but on the whole I think most of the people there were unhappy to see me getting the heave-ho. They all knew what an asshole Cedric was.

As we went, I heard the guards having a little discussion behind me, with Olly doing most of the talking. When we got out to the parking area, and to my trusty Subaru Outback, O'Bannon sort of apologized. Something about maybe being a little out of line.

I put the last of the boxes in the back deck of the Outback, and looked at him. "O'Bannon, don't sweat it. Do me a favor and forget my mouthing off, too. You have your job to do, just like I used to have mine."

He looked a little surprised that I was joking about getting canned. I gave him a grin and he half-grinned back.

I reached into the third box and pulled out a half-killed bottle of Jack Daniels Black. "I don't think it's a good time for me to be around this. You guys make sure it gets to a good home, ok?"

Olly took it and shook my hand. "Sorry, Jeff. This sucks." I nodded and shrugged.

Then O'Bannon offered his hand, and I shook that too. "No hard feelings, Man," I said, and meant it.

"Me too," he said.

I belted myself in and rolled down the window and said, "Don't let that bottle fall into the hands of strangers, guys."

They grinned and passed it between them for a ceremonial toast as I backed out.

"Hang tough, Jeff," Olly said.

O'Bannon had started wheeling the cart back toward the building, but as my car came abreast of him, he waved and called, "Good luck, Mr. Grundvig,"

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = == = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = == = = = =

So much for my time with AGC. Now I was going to have to look for another job, which wasn't going to be easy.

As I drove home, I let myself indulge in my latest little fantasy. Well, one of my non- sexual ones, anyway. I briefly kicked around an idea I'd had about how to publish the TechLit by a form of online self-publication. Actually it would be what is called Publication On Demand, or POD. I'd been thinking about how we might do it for AGC. And even without research I knew there were many big companies in and around the area that had operations like AGC's TechLit.

If I could have gotten it in at AGC, I had wondered if AGC might package it as a new AGC service and market it to those companies? I'd gone online and gathered some preliminary information about it: printing costs and the like. There was a surprising amount of info available, including some websites that went into detail about how to avoid mistakes. I skimmed over those.

Now, things had changed. Now that I had been canned, I toyed with the idea of trying to offer the service myself as a consultant. I gave that about five minutes of fond thought and then came back to reality. It was a pipe dream. I didn't have the capital to do something like that and still pay the bills.

Hell, the way Stacy burned though money we couldn't survive more than two-three months before we'd be broke. I had no idea what resources Stacy had, but I was going to have to sit her down and tell her she had to pitch in to cover the basic bills. We were married, dammit! That was one of my weaknesses as a husband; I let Stacy have her way too much. Now, I didn't honestly know if I could count on her and for what. I needed to get a new income stream going, and fast!

There wasn't a whole lot of new hiring going on in the area, especially for management jobs. I'd been a senior tech writer/editor in Pubs before getting promoted to the TechLit manager's job. I knew there were no openings back in Pubs; they'd just laid off two writers.

I knew I had an uphill job hunt ahead of me. I'd be doing well to get a job as a tech writer. And the pay? Well, I'd be lucky to get 60 percent of what I'd been making at AGC, which had been $65K. In the meantime, I was hoping I could pick up fairly decent money working through a temp agency.

That would make things damned tight in our household. Stacy was going to scream when she found out that she was going to have to do without a lot of her luxuries. Or pay for them herself.

Oh, I thought, this was going to be a real sweet homecoming.

I got home by 1 PM, and moofed around, doing some cleaning, waiting for Stacy to come home. I updated my resume. I would be looking for a management job, an editor's job, or a writer's job, so I needed a slightly different slant in my resume for each. I made and printed out the three versions of my resume; fifty copies of each. I went online and looked at some job posting sites. Pretty bleak, but I posted my three resumes in the appropriate places.

5:30 PM came and went. I guessed Stacy was going to be late again, which wasn't surprising or unusual. She worked late off and on for a week at a time in some erratic non-pattern. She said the booking peaks and valleys were unpredictable.

This was another late night, the third night this week, so this was one of those weeks.

After five years playing the stay-at-home wife, she had finally got bored. She talked to some AGC people she'd worked with before she wound up at TechLit. They brought her into a part-time job at the travel services group. She had some history there before she went into TechLit, and they had no problem hiring her back.

Well, it didn't make much different to the house. It wasn't as though she'd spent much time at home cooking and cleaning, that's for sure.

She liked the work, and worked her way up to full-time status. With the hook-ups to travel agencies, she got deep discounts on air fares and hotel bookings. We had some nice vacations that way. The places were ok, kind of exotic and fancy-schmancy. They were not necessarily where I would have picked to go. They were pricy places where the rich people go, and every location seemed to demand a whole new wardrobe for Stacy. On the whole, it was costing us money for her to work, or so it seemed to me.

Now she managed the travel office. There was more money, supposedly, but you couldn't prove it by me. She insisted on banking her own checks in her own account for her own uses. On the other hand, when she went full time I stopped giving her the money out of each of my paychecks for her personal walking-around money. She got real pissy about that, but I stood my ground. If she wasn't contributing to the payment of shared bills, she wasn't getting her percentage of my take-home any more.

When Stacy finally got home it was about nine. She had a self-satisfied little smirk when she walked in and saw me. And there was something else about her attitude and appearance that I couldn't quite identify.

What was that about? I wondered.

I told her about losing my job. She did not even try to disguise her contempt. She said she had already eaten and was tired. She went upstairs and made a production of slamming the bedroom door.

I wasn't tired, too keyed up from the crappy day's events. And unlike Stacy, I hadn't eaten a damned thing since breakfast. I pulled together some leftovers and surrounded them sitting at the kitchen table.

I was just about to call Gloria, when she surprised me by calling me, instead, full of news. She said that Cedric offered her my job managing the Technical Literature Support Group. She said she'd responded, "What group? It takes more than one person to make a group, Mr. Jennings."

Good for her, I thought.

She said, "I told him I'd take the job, but only if I could hire my own secretary to support me. And I told him I had to have a free hand to hire anyone I wanted, no interference or vetoing from him. I told him that TechLit was absolutely a two-person function. And that if he didn't believe that, he was free to run it by himself. I told him I would find another job."

Well, I'll be damned! Bless her spunky little heart! It took a lot of courage to get in Cedric's face like that. And her with her mother to support!

"He didn't like it" she said. "He tried to pressure me but I wasn't budging. Finally he got exasperated and accused me of not being a team player. I told him I knew what the team needed better than him. I wore him down, Jeff! Eventually said he wouldn't interfere. So I told him I was hiring you, Jeff."


"Please just hear me out, Jeff. I know how hard it'll be for you to get a job these days. The job market is tight. I mean absolutely no disrespect to you by asking you to come work with me. You know and I know that you'll be the real boss and I'll be your assistant, no matter what our titles are.

"That way we can get the job done for AGC, while you can look around for something better while you have income. Please don't be mad at me. I didn't mean to insult you."

"Wow! Mad at you?" I said. "Gloria if you were here I'd kiss you! You are ... well, you are a damned gutsy gal. I'll bet you pissed Cedric off big time."

"Oh yeah, but who cares! I told him that it took two people to do the job, no matter what he thought. And that you naturally knew everything I did and could do the support job as well as I had. And with you around to back me up, I would never be in over my head.

"So he had no choice," she said. "But he sets the salaries, so he stuck it to you. He set your salary at what mine had been, $28K, because you'd be doing my old job. My new salary is $44K. I don't know what you were making."

"I was making $65K, Gloria. He still winds up saving $21K overall, about as much as he could ever expect. He's getting you on the cheap. Any new manager brought in would have demanded at least $50-55K."

I paused for a second. "Gloria?"


"Thank you. I can't say how much I appreciate what you've done. You're..."

I couldn't say all that was in my heart; it wouldn't be right.

"I know," she said softly. "Thank you, Jeff. You're ... you're a great guy. Good night. I'll see you tomorrow.

"Oh, and Jeff?"


"I expect coffee on my desk every morning," she chuckled.

"Yeah, right. Like you ever got me coffee, Gloria," I laughed. "You remind me of a Dickens novel."

"Which is... ?"

"Great Expectations. Good night Gloria."

I heard her giggle as she broke the connection.

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When I came back to work the next day, I just borrowed that same cart and wheeled my one lone box back in. I'd done some serious triage on the accumulation last night and tossed out or stowed the nonessentials.

Later, when I got my email accounts reactivated, I found an email from Cedric. He was still trying to screw me.

It informed me that I was coming in designated as a part-timer at 100% of full-time hours. The 100% part-timer dodge was an accounting fiction. It meant that I'd work full time, but get no health insurance or leave or other benefits. That'd save Cedric over $15K in benefits that wouldn't count against his overhead.

When Gloria read that over my shoulder she went ballistic. Damn, both Cedric and I were learning that that woman had grit! She scribbled a four word letter of resignation on a 2 by 2 Post-It. Words three and four were: "I QUIT." Word two was a second person singular pronoun. Word one was an Anglo-Saxon verb that rhymes with 'fuck' ... pretty much exactly!

She marched into his office and stuck it in the middle of his fucking computer monitor, interrupting him in some chatroom cyber kissy-face game. I guess he sat there stunned for a few minutes.

When he came down looking for her, she was emptying out her desk. I was over at my desk repacking my box.

That scared the piss out of Cedric. If she left he'd have no one who could run the operation, except me, and from what he could see me doing, I had other plans that didn't include saving his ass?

Worse yet, if I stayed he'd have to promote me back to manager, and that would be at my terms. And I'd just hire back Gloria, if she'd be willing to come. Tech Lit was among his most important responsibilities. He himself didn't have the faintest idea of how to do it. And he'd just fired me, and now he'd have to explain to his boss about firing me, hiring me, and promoting me, all in 24 hours!

Well, he folded and asked what she wanted. She demanded that she got a raise to $50K and that I got bumped up to $40K with full bennies. Non-negotiable. Cedric huffed and puffed so she just went back to packing. Cedric folded again. So it wound up that his payroll costs were improved by a whopping $3K!

You're pretty smart. Do the math!

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