This story is part of the ‘Welcome to the New World’ event organized by QHML1. I’m grateful for the invitation to participate. The participating authors are supposed to write stories where there is a power disparity between a man and a woman in a relationship, with the woman being seduced by power.
No one said that the relationship had to be romantic, so here is a very short story about a man and his daughter.
Jacie Leffords sat on the rug with her coloring book and whiled away the hours while her daddy sat behind his desk working. It was always chilly in his office, but it had been better since he came in one Saturday to put in the rug. She didn’t mind wearing her sweater, as long as it wasn’t the scratchy wool one she got from Grandma.
Ever since Mom went to be in heaven, Daddy worked for Grandpa. Jacie missed all the dogs he used to work with, but he said that he needed a job with better benefits and steady money. She promised not to get sick and said she would skip lunch and didn’t even need new toys, but he closed the kennels and doggie school.
She’d make him special pictures when he seemed sad and he’d hang them behind his desk. Grandpa would come down on the elevator and take her to lunch every day. Sometimes they’d go to a fancy restaurant and sometimes they’d eat in his office. It wasn’t cold there and the rug was much nicer.
Jacie would sing softly to herself when Grandpa yelled at Daddy. The mean words made her nervous and she did her best to ignore them. He never yelled back at Grandpa and she’d sometimes hug him after Grandpa left. Daddy always seemed sad except when he was reading to her or playing with Buster, the only dog they had left.
The pictures hanging on his wall grew in number.
When she started school, Mr. Michael would pick her up in the afternoon in Grandpa’s car and take her back to his business. She would sit in Grandpa’s office and work on her letters and pictures. Daddy would take her home when he was done, and they would stop for dinner at places that made tacos or hamburgers or chicken. They were a lot more fun than the places Grandpa took her to.
Jacie was in her second month of the third grade when Grandpa looked down at her as she worked on her cursive. “You know, Jessica, we do have chairs. I could have a table brought in for you.”
“I like the floor. I can lie down and stuff while I do my homework.”
“Does Martin let you do that? It’s ... it’s not very lady-like.”
“Yup. Daddy’s okay with it. Maybe it’s not good for grown-ups, but I’m a kid, so...” She let her reply die off, as if it was self-explanatory.
“Yes, well, all right. Your mother never sprawled on the floor, but you are a child. Remember that we are coming into the offices on Saturday.”
“You told me, but I don’t think we can.”
“What do you mean?”
“Dad and I usually wash Buster on Saturdays, and we take him down to the park.”
“The dog will be fine. Your father is coming in, as well. As usual, shipping and receiving is in disarray, “ he grumbled. His voice was never very nice when he talked about her daddy. “The man is lucky to have a job.”
Jacie was confused Saturday morning. She didn’t understand why her grandparents were picking her up when her father was going to the same place. He squatted down and hugged her.
“It’s fine, baby. I’m sorry I can’t give you everything you deserve. You’re going to have such a great day and I’ll try to get out to see you.”
“Whaddya mean? I’ll come down to see you. Maybe we can have tacos.”
“No, it’s ... I’m going to be very busy with the people installing the inventory system. It’s okay. You’re going to be busy, too. It’ll be great, you’ll see. We’ll talk all about it when we get home.”
Jacie rode in the fancy car with Mr. Michael and her grandparents. When they grew near the building complex her grandfather owned, she could see the balloons, rides and ponies.
“Happy birthday, Jessica Christine. Grandma and I love you very much. We...” He had to stop and collect himself. He always had to do that when he talked about her mother. But Jacie never understood why he seemed angry when it happened. “You remind us so much of your mother. If ... Well, that’s neither here nor there. All of your friends from school and soccer are here. Are you ready for your party?”
Jacie’s grandmother gently patted her husband’s thigh. She spoke lightly. “Matthew.” He relaxed a bit and took her hand in his. She was always the center of his storm. Matthew knew that she wanted him to ease off and allow Jacie to enjoy her day in as low pressure an environment as possible.
It was an amazing day that was marred only by Jacie seeing her father come out at around noon, get talked to by her grandfather and head back into the building.
Jacie and her dad took Buster for a long walk when they got home. She chattered non-stop about the party.
“Daddy, why is Grandpa always angry with you?”
There was a pause before he answered. “Your grandpa loved your mom a whole bunch. I guess like I love you. When she ... when she had to go live with Jesus, he was very angry. I think that he blames me.”
“That’s silly. You didn’t give her cancer.”
The last thing he wanted to do was to start crying in front of Jacie. He pushed down on his emotions as he thought of Jordan and what he could have done and should have done, but didn’t. Nothing came to mind. Nothing ever did, but that didn’t help his feelings of inadequacy and guilt.
“I know, honey. But he’s very sad and very angry and maybe it helps if he can be angry with me.” He changed the subject. “Listen, next week on your actual birthday, we’re going to go to Dave & Buster’s. You can take three friends, okay? Let me know who you want to take, and I’ll talk to their parents.”
“Okay, that’ll be nice.”
Martin tousled his daughter’s hair as Buster watered a tree. Nice. Such a placid, weak word. It certainly wouldn’t apply to a private carnival held on the grounds of a privately held, industry leading business.
By the time Jacie was ready for Middle School, she realized why her father’s office was so cold. She also recognized the musty odor that was partially masked by Febreze. His office was adjacent to the loading docks and was basically a cinderblock shell.
He worked in the Siberia of Vandelay Industries.
She stopped visiting as often and spent much of her time immediately after school with friends at her grandparent’s home. Grandma always had snacks available and they could use the indoor pool year-round. Dad would pick her up around six if she wasn’t running late. If she was, Mr. Michael would drive her and her friends home when they were done.
When she was 16, she began interning with her grandfather’s company. Four days a week, five hours a day during summer breaks and school vacations found her following around one executive or another.
Martin found her one day around noon. “Hey, Jacie, want to grab some tacos?”
She gave him a stiff smile. “Can we step into the conference room for a minute?”
They walked into the empty room and she closed the door behind them. “Listen, Dad, I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’d really prefer to be called Jessica or Jessica Christine. I’m, well, I’m not a kid anymore and Jacie just sounds, I don’t know, childish.”
He noticed how she refused to meet his eyes and constantly looked through the glass door. Martin realized she was watching to see if anyone saw them together and realized for the first time that his daughter was embarrassed to be seen with him.
“I’m sure it’s happened, but I can’t remember any time off the top of my head when I’ve told you no. It’s happening now. Your mother and I named you as soon as we knew we were having a girl. She was the first person to call you J.C. and that became Jacie. We called you that when you were in her womb. Her first words to you when she held you to her chest after you were born was ‘Jacie, meet your daddy.’ I called you Jacie when I stayed up with you when you were sick. I called you that when your mother was sick, and I called you that during her funeral.”
He reached out and touched her cheek as the tears slowly welled in her eyes. “I know that ... Look, I’m not rich and I’m not fancy and I can’t give you all the things your grandparents can, so I’m even sorrier that I can’t give you this, but I’m going to keep calling you Jacie.” Martin stepped forward and kissed her cheek before whispering in her ear. “It’s okay. I won’t come up here. They won’t hear me call you Jacie.”
Stepping away from his daughter, he quickly walked out of the room and headed towards the stairs.
Jessica Christine went to the executive bathroom and cried until she had no tears left. True to his word, Martin never approached her in the offices again.
In the middle of her senior year of High School, Martin sold their home and rented a small apartment. He didn’t speak to Jessica about it and certainly didn’t ask for her input. The home she had grown up, the one with the strongest memories of her mother and the puppies she used to play with was gone.
Buster had died the previous month and Martin told Jessica that it was time to downsize.
She began moving some of her clothes and belongings to what they called her room at her grandparent’s home. It was the guest room that overlooked the outdoor pool. Jessica stayed there two or three nights a week. It was closer to school than the apartment and was more convenient in many other ways. She had a cook and driver when she needed their services and could use the facilities as she pleased.
Martin didn’t know that she was looking into financial aid while applying to colleges until two weeks after she started. When he found out, he asked her to stay at the apartment that night so they could talk.
He brought home some pizza and they sat watching Netflix for a while before talking.
“Jacie, your mother owned some stock. It wasn’t worth a ton, but it was a good amount. Enough to pay for six years of college. You don’t need to apply for loans. I have it covered.”
She was shocked. “What? No, Dad, you should be using that for yourself. Get out of this dump.” He appeared hurt when she said that, but the look faded quickly. “Sorry, that was harsh. But seriously, find a new place, go on a great vacation. Do something for you with the money.”
“Honey, I promise you, being able to pay for your college is absolutely doing something for both me and your mother. She had such dreams for you, Jacie. She’d be so proud. Go to the school you want and don’t worry about the money. I know you’re going to knock their socks off.”
Jessica excelled at college and almost immediately met a young man who was as aggressively career driven as she was. They became serious and he proposed four years after they met. They decided to hold off on the marriage until she had her MBA.
She saw her father on major holidays and they talked on the phone once a week. Everyone at Vandelay saw the writing on the wall and knew she was being groomed to eventually take over. Jessica sat in on many of the reviews for management and, much to her embarrassment, that included her father.
Jessica, the CTO and a woman from HR met with him in the same conference room where she asked to not be called Jacie. The symbolism wasn’t lost on her.
The CTO was a tall thin balding man in an immaculate suit. “Martin, thanks for coming up.” He shook Martin’s hand. “You know Melody Krumpnick, from HR.”
Mrs. Krumpnick extended her hand. “Mr. Leffords.”
“And of course, you know Jessica.”
Jessica reached forward to shake her father’s hand. “Mr. Leffords.”
He smiled at her, shook his head slightly and sadly and took a seat. They both regretted that his review came up during a break from school and Martin wondered if his father-in-law had arranged the timing. The review was difficult, but not horrible. Martin didn’t seem to be in danger of losing his job, but they discussed performance goals that hadn’t been reached and set new goals for the next six months.
Martin was the Shipping and Receiving Manager and had been for 19 years. He never asked for nor received any sort of promotion or lateral position move. They gave him a three percent raise and he was told he should expect to not receive a raise with the next review unless those goals were met.
On the day that Jessica graduated from Wharton with her MBA, Martin put in his two weeks’ notice. It was sent via email as soon as she walked across the stage and accepted her diploma. He informed them in the email that a hard-copy of his resignation would be with HR that Monday.
It took Jessica three weeks to find out that he had resigned. She hadn’t been to his apartment in almost two years and was saddened by how shabby it appeared. He answered the door when she knocked and, seemingly surprised to see her, drew her into a hug.
“Jacie, what are you doing here? I thought you’d be at Vandelay swimming with the sharks or off planning the wedding.”
She ignored his question. “Dad, what’s going on? Did you find another job? Is someone offering you more money? I’m sure I can get Vandelay to match any offers. Why didn’t you talk to me about this?”
“What’s there to talk about? And let’s be honest, you haven’t called in a while and I can’t even remember the last time you were here. When were we going to talk?”
“Okay.” She paused, thinking. “Okay, so who did you go to? Was it Bosons? How much did they offer you?”
“Honey, nobody offered me anything. Hold on a minute, I’ll be right back.”
Martin stepped out of the room and was back shortly with an envelope.
“Here ya go.” He handed it to her.
Opening the envelope, he saw a check made out to her for $100,000. “What ... what is this?”
“It’s for the wedding. If there’s anything left over, use it for your honeymoon. Honey, I’m free. You’ve graduated, and I’m so proud. You’re getting married to a good man. I’ve done my job. Your grandfather has no more hooks in me. I’m done.”
“What are you talking about?”