“… Ms. Hale? Brooke, did you hear what I just said?”
The sound of her own name snapped Brooke Hale from her thoughts, and she found herself face-to-face with her boss, Mr. Carmichael. The back of her calf burned slightly, and she realised that she had been bouncing her leg anxiously, causing it to rub against the rough fabric of the upholstered chair that she was sitting on. Brooke reached down absentmindedly to rub her calf as she awkwardly averted her gaze from the man sitting across the desk from her. She could see her employee folder sprawled out on the glossy surface, no doubt detailing how badly her performance had declined as of late.
“I’m sorry, I was just… What were you saying, Mr. Carmichael?” Brooke shifted her gaze just to the left of the man’s head, and she pretended to admire the painting of a distant, tropical beach that she would probably never get to visit, as she had done a dozen times before.
Mr. Carmichael sighed, stood from his chair, and rounded the desk to stand beside her, “Look, all I’m saying is that you need to try harder. You’ve been here for six months, and I thought I would have seen more from you by now.” He towered over her, staring at her intently, “You’ve told me that you like your job, and you want to keep working here, but I’m just not seeing any initiative from you, Brooke. You used to have such a spark when you first came to me. And now, you’re just… ordinary. What can we do to change that?”
Brooke felt herself flinch involuntarily as his hand landed on her shoulder. Her mind immediately hearkened back to her first week at Carmichael & Peterson LLC, back when she was a wide-eyed intern, eager to get her foot in the door of the world of cyber security. Eager to please. She remembered how excited she was to work for a company that was rated among the top businesses in Seattle for hiring women in tech fields. She was so lucky. She remembered hearing some of the other women whisper about their boss, the young, handsome tech mogul, Sebastian Carmichael, and his not-so-secret fraternization with the women on staff. She remembered brushing their words off as office gossip. Sebastian Carmichael was handsome, successful, and seemed completely harmless.
But Brooke knew better now. After all of the late nights, the overtime, and the numerous trips to the office of Sebastian Carmichael to review her performance, she finally knew better.
Another deep sigh from Mr. Carmichael brought Brooke back to the present once more. He was leaning against the arm of her chair, his hand still on her shoulder, squeezing gently.
“Brooke, Brooke, Brooke…” his voice sounded breathy, “If you don’t want this opportunity, just tell me, and I will easily find someone who does.”
“No, I do, it’s just-“
“Just what? Are you not happy with how I run my company? With how I treat my employees? Don’t think I haven’t heard how you girls whisper to each other when you think I can’t hear you. I’ve heard the rumors you all spread about me,” His tone was defensive. “I would think you would all be grateful to be given this opportunity, especially in such a male dominated field. You know how unlikely it is that you’ll find another job like this, right?”
“I’m sorry, sir, it’s just after Elise left, she told us-” The words flew from her mouth before she could stop them, and she felt Mr. Carmichael’s grip tightened on her shoulder, causing her to jump slightly.
“Mrs. Stone was let go because her behavior was unprofessional, and very inappropriate. If she told you otherwise, then she was lying.”
“Why would she lie? She said that you-“
“I would advise you to think very hard about the words you choose when speaking with me, Ms. Hale. Despite what you might otherwise think, I am still your boss, and you will show me the respect that I deserve. Is that clear?” Mr. Carmichael warned. His icy tone turned her blood cold, and made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end.
Brooke clenched her fists, and swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat, “I’m sorry, Mr. Carmichael. It won’t happen again.”
“Good. Thank you,” he sighed again, his face softening. “Ms. Hale, people lie, especially when they’re in trouble. Elise Stone was not the kind of employee that we want representing us here. She was poisonous for morale, and she was a liar,” his smug grin made Brooke’s stomach turn.
“You know, Brooke,” he continued, “I would expect this kind of naivety from a teenage girl, but not from a grown woman. Not from you. I thought you were different. I thought you were above silly, office gossip.” His grip loosened, and he removed his hand from her shoulder, taking a second to carefully brush a strand of hair from her neck, before pulling his hand away entirely.
Rape. Rape was not silly, office gossip.
Brooke stood up, and quickly moved toward the door, putting several feet between them. Her heart felt as though it would explode from her chest.
“If there’s nothing else you need from me, sir, I’d really like to get back to work now, if that’s alright,” she stammered, struggling to hold back the bile in her throat. She reached for the door.
“Of course, that’s all,” Mr. Carmichael turned away from her, “Oh, and Brooke?”
“I’ll need you to stay late tonight. We’re one tech down, and I really need you tonight. We have more to discuss about your review.”
“But it’s Friday, sir. We were all going out to-“
“Come see me in my office at 5:00, when everyone’s gone home, and we’ll talk about what’s next for you.” He sat down at his desk, and did not look back up.
Brooke’s blood turned cold once more. His tone told her that she had no say in the matter. She couldn’t say no to him. She turned the door handle, and left his office. She paid no attention to the dozens of eyes on her, as she hurried down the hall to the bathroom, where she made it to the stall just in time to throw up the Caesar salad that she had for lunch that day.
After several minutes of trying to catch her breath, she stood up, rinsed out her mouth, regained what little composure she could muster, and walked back out to the room of cubicles. She expected to be met with inquiring stares, but instead, her other co-workers stood at their cubicles, with their backs to her, watching a commotion across the room.
Brooke followed their eyes to the office that she had just left herself, where Sebastian Carmichael was being led out of the building by two men in expensive looking suits. He was in handcuffs. One woman, two cubicles down from where Brooke had sat for the last six months of her life, broke down in tears. Another woman pulled her in close, and gently stroked her hair.
“It’s over,” she whispered to the woman,“It’s finally over.”
Brooke felt hot tears roll down her face.
It’s finally over.