Author’s note: This is the first in a short series I have planned. It’s un-beta’d due to time delays for Dues so forgive any errors and typos – I’m still getting used to a new laptop and Windows 7!
“MAC, call for you on line two.” The disembodied voice of her secretary came over the loudspeaker in the crowded office.
“Dayna, I said no interruptions.” Abigail Crane – Abby to her friends and MAC (Ms. A. Crane) to her work colleagues – depressed the button to connect her to her beleaguered and overworked assistant.
“I know that but…”
“MAC, we don’t have time for this.” Her PA, Sheralyn, interrupted. “We need to get to the conference room in, like, two minutes if we’re not going to be late.” She rose and began gathering the folders MAC had passed across the desk already, at the same time gesturing to the other executives to begin filing out. “Dayna, deal with it. That’s what you’re paid for.”
Abby’s eyebrows rose at her PA’s pejorative tone. She’d begun hearing some rumours about Sheralyn’s caustic treatment of her secretary but this was the first time she’d experienced it first-hand. It was something to be dealt with another day. For now she had possibly the biggest presentation of her career to get through during the next hour and she really, really, didn’t need the hassle. But she didn’t want to condone Sheralyn’s behaviour and alienate Dayna, who was a terrific secretary, either. Office politics – who needed them?
“Dayna, who’s calling?” She caught the frown on her PA’s face even as she ignored the other woman.
“It’s Claire Morton, MAC. And you said I should always put her calls through.”
“Yes, I did. And thank you. Give me a minute to clear up here and then put her on.” She narrowed her eyes at the pained expression on Sheralyn’s face, not failing to catch the roll of the eyes she aimed at the male executives streaming out of her office.
“Problem, Sher?” She asked sweetly, a hint of steel running through her voice.
Recognising the tone, the younger woman backed off slightly. She liked her position as executive assistant to a rising star.
“We need to be at the presentation now, MAC. You – we – don’t have time for personal calls. This is the biggest presentation Whitfield/Roberts has pitched for since you took over as VP of Sales and Marketing. I’d have thought you’d be totally focused on this and…”
MAC rose to her feet, planted both hands on the desk and eyeballed her suddenly aggressive assistant. If Sheralyn wanted a confrontation then she’d get it.
“Firstly, you don’t need to remind me of my job. Secondly, your job depends on my being happy with you as my assistant and if you continue to undermine me or my secretary you’ll soon find yourself summarily replaced. Thirdly, you don’t ever, ever, speak to Dayna in that dismissive tone of voice or I’ll see you back in the steno pool before you can say Jack. Do I make myself clear?” Coolly, she began to gather the papers she’d need for the presentation into her briefcase as she watched the flush creep up Sheralyn’s neck into her cheeks.
“Yes, ma’am.” The younger woman muttered, fury emanating from her every pore but banked as she realised her job was under threat. She had already swung around to leave the office when her boss’s soft voice called her back.
“Could you please take my briefcase to the conference room and tell them I’ll be along momentarily?”
With a subdued nod – and a toss of her sleek golden locks, Sheralyn Baker grabbed the case MAC held out and exited the office.
“Dayna, you can put Mrs Morton through now.
“Sure thing, MAC, and, eh, thanks for sticking up for me.”
Abby sighed. “No, Dayna, I owe you an apology. I’ll deliver after we get this contract. If I ever get to the boardroom!”
She heard the click as her secretary connected the call. “Claire, how are you? How are our boys?” She winced as her patently over-enthusiastic words gushed forth.
Claire Morton was the quintessential mom and had all but adopted her son Lee since he’d entered Annapolis almost four years ago and befriended Chip Morton. It had been wonderful for Lee, an only child – fatherless from the age of five – who’d thrived on being a part of the big, noisy, boisterous clan that was all things Morton. It hadn’t been as easy for her. Much as she liked Claire, it had made her feel even more of a failure as a parent. She had a feeling that wasn’t going to change any time soon.
“They’re both great, Abby. Can you believe they’re going to graduate in another couple of months?” Claire’s laugh was warm and carefree. “God help the US Navy when the two of them are let loose!”
MAC smiled. Their sons were a pair – one dark and way too serious for his own good, the other blond and lighter of heart. They had meshed during their first weeks at the Academy and established what she foresaw would be a lifelong friendship – no matter where the Navy sent them. She knew Lee would make the service his career and recognised the same determination and resolve in the young man that had become more than his best friend – the brother she hadn’t been able to give him. She couldn’t have been happier for her son. Even as she watched him growing further apart from her.
Letting go was one of the toughest duties of a mother. Letting a son go to the same Navy that had taken her husband from her far too early was a whole different ball game. Time to suck it up, MAC.
“God help the girls they’ll leave behind in every port!” She strove for light-hearted.
Claire’s rich laughter warmed her even as she looked at her watch and frowned. If she didn’t make it to the conference room in the next three minutes she was going to be more than unfashionably late and her job would be in serious jeopardy. Whitfield/Roberts were counting on this contract to see them through a very difficult cash flow problem and she was solely responsible for securing it. She had eaten, slept and breathed it for the past two months and today was D-Day.
“Is everything OK with you, Claire?” She was hoping to prompt the other woman into the reason for her call as she glanced at her watch again and winced.
“Fine, Abby. I was just wondering what you thought about the boys signing up for Groton after graduation. I’m pleased they’re planning to stay together but worried about submarine service. It’s not exactly the safest of career choices. And I was hoping that you’d be able to swing it so you can make it to Lee’s 21st birthday party. I know you said you’d be out of the country and that you’re fine with us hosting it but I was thinking that maybe something had changed and you could make it after all.”
MAC felt her heart squeeze. Could you feel your heart actually squeeze? she wondered idly as she sought voice to answer. The hope in the other woman’s voice was tangible and she knew that Lee would love her to be there and the Mortons would welcome her with open arms. At the same time she knew that Lee would have a great time being the centre of the Morton family’s attention and was used to her being missing on those major occasions. He’d been little more than a baby when she’d gone back to work. Ben’s Navy pension hadn’t been enough to keep them both and she’d had a brain and a decent education so it hadn’t been hard to find a good job. Her own staunch work ethic and tenacity had seen her rise swiftly through the ranks. At the expense of being there for her son too many times to count, she acknowledged with a pang of regret.
Lee hadn’t suffered; she’d made sure of that. He’d never been a latch key kid; there’d always been someone there after school when he got home to make him a hot meal and oversee his homework. And if she’d only made it home some nights in time to kiss him goodnight, he knew she loved him unreservedly. He was the best kid a mom could have. He was sweet and charming, scholastically brilliant and had entered the Academy almost an entire year early. He was her pride and joy and was about to graduate in the top five per cent of his class from the US Naval Academy. It still shocked her to think of her baby as being the man he’d become.
She was determined to be there for his big day. Unfortunately it meant she couldn’t be with him to celebrate his twenty-first birthday. That was the trade-off. Just as she hadn’t been at Chip’s nine months ago and had missed two out of the last three of Lee’s birthdays. But she had been there for Christmas each of the last four years – if only for the day – and had treasured the two week vacation they’d spent together before he’d gone off on his Summer Cruise last year.
Submarine service? That was one to be thought through before she could comment on it. Didn’t make the huge lump in her throat any easier as she answered Claire.
“I’m afraid not. It’s just a really bad time right now. There’s a major account that I’ve been working to land for months and it’s all just coming together. I have to be in Germany to make the presentation to their board next week and, if all goes well, we’ll be touring their factories, which is going to keep me out of the country for at least three weeks.”
She hated making excuses – and another swift glance at her watch told her that if she didn’t get her tail into the boardroom in one minute flat she could kiss the entire account goodbye.
“That’s too bad, Abby. I was hoping maybe your schedule had changed and you could join us. But you know that we’ll make it a really special day for Lee. He’s just like one of our own. I have the gifts you sent and I know he’s going to be really thrilled with them. And it was so nice of you to include a ticket for Chip to go to Cancun. He’ll be apoplectic! I’m sure I don’t want to know what the two of them will get up to!”
She broke off in giggles and Abby relaxed and allowed herself to grin too. Claire didn’t judge or make her feel inadequate about the decisions she’d made for herself and Lee. She accepted. And, as Claire’s decisions had been different from hers, Lee was the winner, finding a brother in Chip and gaining a real family into the bargain.
“I’m with you there, Claire. There are some things a mother just doesn’t need to envisage. And I’m so sorry I can’t be there. I…” Her voice failed her. That darn lump.
“Hush, Abby, he’ll be fine. We’ll make it a good day for him. And he’ll know he’s in your thoughts. Been there, girl, and done it. Maybe not as internationally as you have but there’ve been times when I wasn’t around for my three and the guilt is a real pain in the ass. Believe me, girl, I know where you’re at. We just do the best we can.”
The wry tone had Abby almost chuckling. Claire was such a comfort. She’d really lucked out when Chip Morton had befriended her son.
A knock at the door and the frantic face of one of her associates had her holding up a single finger.
“Claire, I’ve got to go. I’m sorry but this presentation rides on my input. I’ll be in touch before the party and, again, I’m so grateful to you for hosting this.”
“Nonsense, Lee’s just like a brother to Chip and a son to us. It’s our pleasure. Just didn’t want you to think we were honing in on your boy. You know you’re always welcome here. And we’ll see you at the graduation. We can compare notes on the two of them!”
Claire Morton always managed to make her laugh, even at her lowest ebb. “I’m looking forward to it. See you then, Claire.”
Glaring at the poor associate who’d been sent to fetch her, she pulled out a compact and dusted her face with powder to hide the sheen – and the tiny tracks the tears had left behind. She couldn’t afford to indulge now.
Gathering her composure she swept out of the office and into the boardroom with an aplomb she’d worked on over the years. Abby had no doubt she’d pay for it later but the tears would be shed in private. Same as the ones she’d been shedding for the past sixteen years.