Slipperless #2

By: Sloan Storm

GABE

Monday morning I gathered the lab team in the conference room to announce Fiona’s promotion. I hadn’t spoken to her since our encounter Friday night in my office. Of course, after we got through the formalities of the announcement, I would have to lay out my expectations for our ongoing interludes. In the meantime, I savored the memory of my conquest and looked forward to taking her again as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

For now though, there was an awful lot of work to do, so I wasted no time announcing the results of the competition once everyone took their seats.

“First of all, I’d like to congratulate all of you on your efforts. I realize not everyone works well under deadlines. However, that’s okay. The simple truth is there can only be one winner in any competition. I would encourage you not to let the fact you didn’t come out on top discourage you from doing your best work. Trust me when I say that it does not reflect on how Colin or I evaluate your worth to the team. Each of your individual contributions are every bit as important as my own, or any of the other senior staff members.”

I paused for a moment and rubbed my hands back and forth in a deliberate manner. Once I was certain I’d gotten my point across, I continued.

“Fiona,” I began as I gestured towards her. “Please come join me.”

Obviously, it was the first moment anyone was aware of my decision. A palpable silence fell over the assembled group as each turned to look at her. Even from a distance of ten feet or so, Fiona’s discomfort was plain to the eye. Red-faced and avoiding the curious glances, she kept her eyes trained downward as she began to stand. When she did, the bottom of the chair dug into the carpet, causing her to have to pull hard on it. It banged against the arm of Colin’s chair and she lost her balance but steadied herself against his shoulder with her palm.

“Oh,” she stammered. “Oh, I’m sorry, Colin.”

Stifling a smile, I raised my hand to my face and covered my mouth. I expected her to be uncomfortable, even awkward, but I hadn’t anticipated getting a chuckle out of it. On one hand, I found her uneasiness charming and perhaps a bit innocent. Yet, on the other, it was something we’d have to get past if she was ever to grow in her position as a leader in the company.

After extricating herself from the tangle of chair arms and human legs, Fiona made her way towards me. Holding onto her sleeves with a knuckle-whitening grip, she offered me a close-lipped grin. I nodded and winked at her.

Once she’d closed to within about a foot, I leaned in towards her and instructed her with a hushed tone. “Let go of your sleeves.”

Her eyes darted up towards me for a moment before she swallowed in acknowledgment and released them from her grasp. Once her fingers appeared in full view, I continued in the same low voice, “Would you like to say a few words to the group?”

Fiona’s eyes widened as she looked at me. With a small shake of her head, she made her desires clear. I hadn’t told her about my plan to have her address everyone. It would be her first test and I was eager to see how she handled it. This wasn’t a promising start. I glared at her in silence for a moment or two. If she didn’t confront the awkwardness, it would only get worse. I angled my upper body in her direction and offered a bit of encouragement.

“Go on, you can do it.”

Fiona’s skin turned off-white, the shade of partially melted snow, as she stood in front of me with her back to the group.

“What do I say?” she whispered.

I smiled a bit and hooked my hand inside her arm, turning her back to face everyone.

“I think most of us here can relate to a fear of speaking in public.” I began as I nodded towards them. “Isn’t that true?”

Tenting my eyebrows in an expectant manner, I glanced around the table and waited for acknowledgment. Most nodded their heads in sympathetic understanding with the exception of Amanda and Melissa. As my gaze came upon them, I noticed definite looks of disappointment, bordering on disdain, as they stared in Fiona’s direction.

I can’t say I was surprised, as I was well aware of the underlying tension. But getting them in line would be a major challenge for Fiona, not to mention a potential problem for the integrity of the team and the Link Protocol itself.

Yet this was Fiona’s team now, and one way or another, she’d have to learn to assert her authority over them. That would come with time. For now, I sensed it was important to leave no doubt she was in charge and had my full support. I had no interest in having her command questioned. Any insubordination could be disastrous.

“Thank you for coming up, Fiona. You can go back to your seat now. Congratulations again.” I gestured for her to return to the table as I began to clap. “Let’s all give Fiona a round of applause for doing such a great job.”

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