This story is in answer to a challenge from my editor, ErikThread. He challenged me to write a story that had only two locations and no more than six characters. This story has two locations, a cafeteria and a home. It has a total of five characters. I hope my switching time frames doesn't confuse the reader.
Lauren and Bonnie
He was sitting alone at a table in the far corner of the cafeteria of his office building. In front of him was a bowl of soup, a sandwich and a glass of milk. It was the same lunch he ate every week day. The soup and the sandwich changed daily, but the trio was constant.
His fellow workers had come to realize he wasn't very social anymore and chose to avoid being with him. At thirty-nine years of age, Zachary Thurlow had developed a thick skin and the ability to disassociate himself from the turmoil going on around him.
He never knew his parents. Not really. They were killed in an automobile accident on New Year's Day when he was two. His father had been drunk and lost control of his car, driving it into an overpass abutment. Both were killed instantly. He lived with his grandparents until he was almost ten, when they were no longer able to look after him.
He was taken into foster care, being farmed out finally to a couple who provided a foster home. He was one of the lucky ones. They were good people, Byron and Melinda Thomason. A little older than the norm, but fine people who truly cared for Zachary and raised him as if he were their own son.
He earned a scholarship at a local university and, with hard work and part-time jobs, was able to complete his education, ending up with a BSc in Mechanical Engineering. His grades were good, and upon graduation he was offered a job at Kildare Manufacturing in his home town. He was assigned to the engineering department and worked with a number of other colleagues as they planned and executed preventive maintenance, equipment replacement, and other modernizations on the shop floor. He found it a very rewarding job.
While still in college, he met and courted Lauren Withers. She was a year behind him in school and he waited for her to graduate before proposing to her. She accepted readily and they were married in September. The marriage produced two children, Tanner and Lance, born eighteen months apart.
After the boys were born, the family purchased a modest home in the suburbs. It was a three-bedroom bungalow with a full basement and a single-car garage. Since they both owned automobiles, his sat outside as he left first in the morning and was home last in the evening. Lauren didn't work, preferring to be a stay-at-home mother. Zach's salary was sufficient to give them a good standard of living.
They raised their sons to be good students and good citizens. Both boys went through scouting but stopped as they discovered girls. They participated in school activities and both played on the varsity soccer team. They had typical teenage social lives, including a couple of girlfriends to keep them company. Zach never had cause to worry about them and he was sure Lauren felt the same.
Lauren, Zach, and a Friend at Work
As the boys entered their middle teens, Lauren began to talk about finding a part time job. She had a bachelor of arts, but no special training for any particular occupation. Zach wasn't totally against the idea, but wanted her to make sure it didn't interfere with their home life. She assured him it wouldn't.
After several months without success, Lauren found a part time job as a sales assistant at kitchen and bathroom remodelling business. Her job was to qualify the potential customer (whether they were serious or just looking) and direct them to the proper sales representative. She didn't have to be an expert, but she dove into the opportunity head first. Within a couple of months she was fully versed in the company's products. On her six month review, she was given a nice raise in pay and a written copy of the review, rating her "Superior."
When she took the job, she made it clear she would only be available on weekdays until four o'clock. She had a household to run and meals to prepare for her sons and husband. In the beginning, that was quite acceptable to her employer. However, a year after her first review, she began to feel some pressure to work on Saturdays, normally the busiest day of the week.
At first she resisted, but when her manager offered to put her on salary plus commission, she could see the dollar signs being dangled before her eyes.
"Zach, can we talk after dinner?"
"Sure. What's it about?"
"An opportunity that's too good to pass up."
"Okaaay," he said warily.
When the dishes had been put into the dishwasher, Zach and Lauren sat at the kitchen table.
"I've been asked to go on salary plus commission instead of just salary," Lauren began. "I would mean a lot more income for me ... and us ... since my sales have been so good."
"Okay ... sounds good," Zach said, still not sure what the punch line was. "We make enough money now, honey. Your salary is looking after the boys' college fund with some left over. How much more are you talking about?"
"It would mean about twenty to twenty-five percent more," she said, beaming.
"That's a big jump. What's the catch?"
"Well ... uhhm ... I'd be working on Saturdays."
"Oh," he said, nodding. "That means we would only see each other one day a week."
"No! I'd be home every night and be here for breakfast in the morning. It would just be Saturdays that I would be gone."
"So, what do we do on Saturdays now?" he asked.
"Well, we go shopping, have lunch together ... you know ... the usual."
"Yeah, the usual. The usual being we do it together and have some time to ourselves. We unwind from the week and talk about what we want to do or places we want to go."
"We can do that Sunday," she said, now showing irritation with Zach's comments.
Zach was quiet for a few moments, obviously thinking.
"Would it make any difference if I asked you not to do it?" he asked, looking her straight in the eye.
"You'd do that? You'd stop me from trying to better myself?"
He was shaking his head. "This isn't about bettering yourself, Lauren, and you know it. It's about recognition and reward. That always comes with a price."
"What do you mean?" she asked, now beginning to get angry.
"With every chance to make more, you get more pressure to perform. You'll find that your boss expects to you stay late to finish up a job or quotation or something that just has to be done and can't wait. Your time ceases to become your own."
"Well, you'd better spell it out, Zach," she spat. "Are you going to support me with this opportunity or not?"
"I would never prevent you from doing what you think is important. I'm trying to point out the change it will make in our family."
"I think you're exaggerating the changes. You just don't want me working on Saturdays. Maybe you don't want me working at all," she snapped, getting up and striding out of the kitchen.
Zach let out a breath and sighed. He knew from the beginning she was going to take the job. What worried him was her attitude at dismissing his concerns about the family and the brief time they had to spend with each other. He had a bad feeling about this, but knew he was going to have to let it play out or risk a real blow-up in their relationship. It appeared that money was becoming a major factor in her life.
It was a surprise when a young woman sat down across from him at his solitary lunch table. He looked at her, realizing she was familiar, but not someone he knew by name.
"Hi, it's Zach Thurlow, isn't it?" she questioned cheerily.
"Yes, that's me."
"I'm Bonnie Cosworth. I work in H.R."
"I'm in engineering."
"Yes, I know. I made the changes to your life insurance and your 401k.
"Nice to meet you, Bonnie," Zach said with a faint smile before returning to his lunch.
"I notice you sit by yourself at lunch. Does my being here bother you?"
"No. I'm not much for socializing, so most people get bored when I don't contribute much to office gossip or whatever the current topics might be."
Zach looked the woman over for the first time. She was about five-foot-five and about twenty pounds overweight. Much of that excess weight seemed to be located on her chest. She had a round face, reddish-brown hair, cut short, a nice complexion, a cheerful smile and a pleasant voice. Her lunch looked like a typical diet lunch: salad, tea and Jello.
"I'm sorry about your divorce," she said after a long quiet spell.
"Why?" she asked in surprise.
"I made an error in judgement and it needed to be corrected."
"Oh. I'm sorry, I shouldn't pry. I know better, especially since I work with so much sensitive information."
"Based on the gossip I hear, there aren't many secrets around this place," he said with a wry smile.
"Speaking of gossip, I heard you turned down a promotion last week."
"You heard right."
"Can you tell me why, or is it none of my business."
.... There is more of this story ...