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A Window to Love-Chapter 1

Chapter One

 

Mandie Carter jogged back to her office across from the main hospital. She hoped to send an email to the new union representative before her meeting with the CEO. The flame that needed dousing was small but required her special brand of fire extinguisher. The union rep kept inviting himself to department staff meetings, unannounced, and irritating the new CEO. Arlene had said enough was enough and expected Mandie to take care of it.

 

The morning was already filling up. She had only a sliver of time before the last-minute meeting. When the hospital’s executive secretary had asked Mandie to meet with Arlene during the lunch hour, she’d said, “Of course.” Arlene’s schedule was always tight, as busy as Mandie’s own, but she would push things around to accommodate her.

 

Meeting location is in your office. Arlene will be over in 5 minutes.

 

Mandie crinkled her forehead at the confusing text message. Normally, she had to shuttle herself to the main building when she met with Arlene. She slid into her office chair and began furiously typing.

 

She reminded the union rep of a clause in the contract which required him to give notice whenever he planned on visiting the hospital. His response was almost instantaneous.

 

I’ll be at the plant engineering staff meeting today.

 

Time to step up the response. Mandie copied the relevant contract clause, and highlighted the section where management had to agree to a visit for any reason other than the investigation of grievances.

 

There is no ongoing investigation, and the hospital does not agree to the disruption of a rep attending a staff meeting uninvited.

 

The bell on the outside door tinkled. As Mandie was finishing her terse response, she wondered where her staff had gone. Although it was lunch time, they normally informed her when they left the office so she could cover and listen for the bell. She glanced at the bottom, right-hand corner of her computer and noted the time. Noon. It was probably Arlene.

 

She popped up and went to the door. Both Arlene and Liana, the Chief Nursing Officer, were in the waiting area. Tiny alarm bells were ringing in Mandie’s head.

 

“I’ll be right there. I need to finish the email to that union rep who’s giving us fits.”

 

“We’ll wait in the conference room for you,” Arlene said.

 

Liana had a strained look on her face. More alarm bells. Mandie wondered if the rep had also wreaked havoc on the nursing units. She sighed. Where is my staff? The office feels like a tomb.

 

At first, the new union rep had seemed reasonable, easy to work with. They had combined forces to resolve a sensitive situation in the business office, and she believed he would be a partner to face the difficult issues that often presented themselves in the workforce. Wolf in sheep’s clothing. He had visited the hospital more in the last two weeks than the previous rep had in a year. Mandie had passed it off as his need to connect with the employees he represented. Now she wasn’t so sure.

 

Finishing the last line of the email, she hit Send. She walked into the conference room eager, but at the same time dreading to learn the nature of the unexpected meeting. Arlene’s hands were clasped in front of her, and she wore a grim expression. Liana wouldn’t look Mandie in the eye. Mandie sat down across from Arlene and waited for her to begin.

 

“Last evening, I had a meeting and ran into Jillian Cochran,” Arlene said.

 

Mandie rolled the name around in her mouth, but it didn’t taste familiar. “Jillian Cochran?”

 

Arlene ignored the question. “Jillian expressed concern about my ability to work with her on the state committee. She informed me that the HR director told her the reason we did not choose her for the position was that I believed she might undermine me. Jillian now represents her new employer on the same state committee I currently chair.” Arlene sat back in her seat, but her hands were still clasped together.

 

Mandie was still trying to place Jillian Cochran. Her brain cells hadn’t kicked in yet, and her blank stare must have generated Liana’s response.

 

“Jillian was our Business Development Director candidate,” Liana added.

 

Mandie blinked. She had been on the other side of the table enough to recognize the trajectory of the conversation. Her pending termination was coming into focus.

 

“I can’t have people in the community thinking that about me.” Arlene pushed a piece of paper in front of Mandie, with an envelope clipped to the top. “We’ve prepared a generous severance package. After all, Washington is an ‘at will’ state. We didn’t have to offer anything.”

 

All the pieces of the puzzle clicked into place, and a bitter taste filled Mandie’s mouth. Arlene was new to the organization; the board had appointed her as CEO less than a year ago. Over the past few months, Mandie’s relationship with the CEO had deteriorated. Arlene had chosen not to believe Mandie without hearing her side. She was stunned, and at the same time, she was not. This was the perfect ruse to move Mandie out of her position on the senior leadership team.

 

Arlene was flexing her muscles. The hospital’s impending affiliation with a large healthcare system was no longer on the table, and Arlene was free to pursue ultimate control of the ship. She’d already quashed casual-Friday jeans and attempted to implement random drug testing. Mandie had tried to help Arlene understand that none of the other hospitals in Washington State performed random testing. That was a major conflict to overcome with the unions.

 

Arlene pushed those facts aside and served them up as an example of Mandie’s shortcomings. According to Arlene, Mandie didn’t embrace change. Flying under the radar was the only way to survive, but that was hard. Aside from disagreeing with the CEO, she didn’t want Arlene to step into a hornet’s nest without warning.

 

Arlene insisted she wanted her team to provide input, yet gave the distinct impression the entire C-Suite’s viewpoint needed to align with her way of thinking. Any diversity of opinions was seen as not “having her back.” As Chief Human Resources Officer, Mandie was a key person in C-Suite, and expected to have Arlene’s back. Mandie had bluntly informed Arlene that she would follow any of her directives. She was, after all, the boss. But if asked her opinion, Mandie would give an honest one and not try to guess what Arlene was hoping to hear. Mandie dreaded her meetings with Arlene.

 

An out and proud lesbian didn’t exactly fly below the radar in Arlene’s world. Mandie had brought Caroline to the hospital fundraiser, where Arlene’s husband failed to hide his disgust. In a moment of pure insanity, Mandie had asked if her sexuality contributed to the strain in their relationship. Arlene turned crimson and flatly denied that Mandie being a lesbian had anything to do with their difficult conversations. Mandie wasn’t convinced.

 

“I won’t fight this,” Mandie said. “In some ways, I suppose it’s a relief. But you know I would not say what Jillian claims. I would never throw you under the bus. As I recall, Jillian’s personnel file described her as having a vitriolic communication style. That is why we did not offer her the position. Liana, you were there when we met with her and had a candid conversation about our concerns. You know I wouldn’t provide feedback that would compromise Arlene’s reputation in the community.”

 

 “I confirmed with Jillian that it was the HR Director and not the CNO,” Arlene broke in. “I’ve already asked Liana about this. She assures me, she did not tell Jillian that I was the reason she didn’t get the job.”

 

“So, you believe Jillian, whose personnel file is filled with written warnings. My own reputation is untarnished, yet you don’t trust that I would not act so unprofessionally. I suppose that says it all and is the reason why I won’t fight this,” Mandie answered in defeat.

 

Mandie was tired. Tired of her job. Tired of her relationship with Arlene. Tired of the undercurrent of discrimination that hovered below the surface. Why would she wish to work for an organization that would treat their leaders in this manner? She’d lost her will to fight. The better option was to take the severance package and figure out a plan for her future…after she didn’t feel so bruised and battered.

 

“The package is generous,” Arlene defended. “We don’t need to offer this, as Washington is an ‘at will’ state,” she repeated.

 

“I’m well aware of that. I’ll sign the paper right now.” Mandie took the pen Liana offered her and scribbled her name.

 

“I’ll help you remove at least some of your personal belongings, then we can arrange a time….” Liana said softly. Arlene pivoted out of her chair and scurried from the office. She’d completed her unpleasant task and could leave Liana to finish.

 

“Thanks,” Mandie mumbled, as she stood and walked into her office. “The databases, projects…” She looked at her desk, filled with folders, and shook her head. “Never mind, I’ll just grab the pictures of my girlfriend and my bag. I’ll get the rest later.”

 

Liana grabbed a bag and started to help pull off the pictures from the metal filing cabinet.

 

“Liana, you know I would never say that.”

 

“I know. I said it didn’t sound like you. I believe you.”

 

Mandie wouldn’t let them have the satisfaction of seeing her cry. She grabbed the framed picture of her and Caroline that prominently sat on the credenza and tossed it in the bag. “Can we do the rest on Monday? After my staff leave, please.”

“Sure. I’ll meet you here,” Liana answered.

 

 

Mandie looked down as she left the building, barely acknowledging Kim. John wouldn’t meet her eyes. Mandie wondered what they’d said to her staff. Liana walked her out. Escorted out—like some criminal—to make sure she wouldn’t steal a company pen. As soon as she crossed the parking lot, Mandie pulled out her cell phone and texted Caroline.

 

Mandie: I just got fired

 

Caroline: Did they give you a severance?

 

Mandie: 6 months

 

Caroline: You should push for more

 

Mandie was done. Through with everything, including Caroline’s well-meaning advice. She didn’t respond. She drove home to her condo on the lake, still in relative shock. She’d worked steadily since the age of fifteen. No organization had ever fired her before. This was all new to her.

 

Her cats greeted her at the door and looked up in confusion. Why was their mommy home in the middle of the day?

 

Mandie made a beeline to her laptop, typed Indeed.com in the search bar, and began the laborious task of job hunting. An advertisement on the side of the screen caught her eye. Stuck in a Rut…Come Get High with Us. Washington State had recently made marijuana legal but this advertisement wasn’t for wacky weed.

 

Something about the idea of skydiving tugged at her. She was sick and damn tired of playing it safe. Of being the good girl. Of not fighting back. Of not speaking up. The advertised special for the weekend was two hundred dollars. Jobless, she could ill afford the cost of a crazy activity she’d never once considered. Her phone pinged.

 

Caroline: Sorry about the job. I’ll be home late, heading to the winery with friends

 

Mandie wasn’t sure how she felt about the text from her girlfriend. Heading to the winery was becoming a frequent occurrence. Combined with Mandie’s already shitty day, she was irritated. No, she was pissed. Maybe she didn’t want to talk about the firing or be on the receiving end of Caroline’s advice. Wasn’t your girlfriend supposed to at least try to support you?

 

She ignored the text message and punched in the number for the skydiving place. Before sanity took over, she made arrangements for a dive on Saturday. Caroline wouldn’t care one way or another. She often had plans on the weekends that didn’t include Mandie. They had been drifting apart over the last year and needed to put their dying relationship to rest. End the misery. It was a habit, like work. Mandie had continued on, because everyone expected that of her. She giggled as she thought of Caroline coming into the condo. You’re fired. I found a new girlfriend who actually likes experiencing the great wines of the Northwest.

 

 

Mandie’s cell phone started to vibrate across the heavy wooden coffee table. She absently flipped it over, expecting to see Caroline’s name. Her father’s name blinked on the screen. Insistent. Unrelenting. She kept ignoring the buzz, as it intermittently pulsated on the hard surface. Mandie was just as relentless in her refusal to answer; no matter how many times he called. His calls in the middle of the day were never an emergency. It hadn’t mattered how many times she’d reminded him she couldn’t talk during work hours. He didn’t know she’d been fired.

 

Ever since her mother’s death, her father had felt the need to call all the time. Frank Sr. had mentioned, on more than one occasion, that all he had to live for these days was his children. Mandie felt guilty for not answering. The guilt wasn’t enough to overcome the shame.

 

Her father had an inflated view of her job and the ultimate importance of her role in the organization. Coming clean and telling him she was fired could only be avoided by not answering his call. Lying to him was not an option. She’d already disappointed him by not having children. Frank Sr. would definitely not consider her furbabies an appropriate equivalent to grandchildren. The bitter chuckle bubbled from her throat and felt like bile filling her mouth.

 

Mandie scratched Xena’s head as she cuddled up next to her on the couch. “If only you could answer Dad’s call and redirect him so I don’t have to confess.”

 

“Meow,” Gabrielle answered from her relaxed position at Mandie’s feet.

 

“Oh, so you think you can push the answer button with your paw? I probably should have pursued another line of work. What good did it do me to become a boring administrator if that isn’t any more stable than an artist? God forbid I would have pursued photography.”

 

“Brrppp, meow,” Xena answered.

 

“Hmm, I guess you won’t be left out of the conversation, huh, Xena? Well, good for you.  Now stop distracting me, you two, Mamma really needs to find a new job before Dad finds out his daughter is not the successful career woman he brags about to his friends.”

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