From the corner of my eye, I was watching Melissa slowly sipping coffee. When she finally realized it, she looked up at me and faked a smile. I did the same.
We were working together on a new advertising idea. Well actually, I was working on MY idea, she was just there to offer input, or to be more specific, make noise. Couldn’t say no. She was the boss’s niece.
‘’ Jenny, don’t you think a 50-year-old woman modeling lingerie is a little much? I mean, I am half her age and I would be embarrassed to wear it.’’
‘’ No offense, but… you don’t have her body.’’ I said sweetly, giving myself a mental thumbs up.
If looks could kill, I would be dead by now.
‘’She has been a mother of four and an active triathlete all her life. It would be great for the company to promote that kind of lifestyle. So much different from those skinny models who eat carrots and lettuce all day and freak out every time they gain a few kilograms. We can find those everywhere, don’t you agree?’’ I said even more sweetly.
‘’ Oh how awesome! I am sure she will be a big diva who will ask far too much. Let me remind you, we are currently on a tight budget. We can pay three models with her paycheck!’’
‘’I already talked to her and she actually asked half of what we pay a professional model. Exactly because she knows she is not a professional model. No diva at all.’’
She started chewing on her pencil; a sign she was thinking or to be more specific, pretending to think. She spent five minutes doing that, just to piss me off. When she realized I was losing my patience, she finally looked up at me.
‘’ We can give it a try. I sure hope it doesn’t fail like your previous two ideas. You know what they say, three strikes and you are out.’’ she said smiling from ear to ear.
Suppressing my strong desire to grab her neck and squeeze it, I ordered myself to stay calm and wore my fake sweet smile again.
‘’ I think this will be a huge success and will help me earn the Head of Advertising position.’’
I saw her choking on her coffee and I felt waves of adrenaline rushing through my veins.
‘’ Oh, I am sorry…I thought you knew?’’ I said sweetly as I was paying the bill.
Two days later, and after every little detail was taken care of, I took a deep breath and entered the meeting room. I handed my proposal to every board member and asked them if they had any questions before my presentation. I saw them looking at each other, exchanging surprised looks and my heart skipped a beat.
‘’What is going on?’’ I asked trying to remain calm.
Mr Adams, the president, looked at me as if I was the scum of the earth.
‘’ Jenny, how dare you steal Melissa’s idea? She presented us this exact same idea fifteen minutes ago!’’
Anger devoured me within seconds. I felt my cheeks flushing, my eyes sending fire shots, my hands trembling and my heart beating faster than ever.
That bitch photocopied my entire project, memorize it and passed it off as her own so that she could be Head of Advertising instead of me.
‘’ Melissa graciously offered to help you out but stealing her idea, her hard work, every little detail and presenting it as yours without even having the decency to mention her name is total lack of professionalism. I am sorry Jenny, but you gave me no other choice. You are fired.’’
I knew there was no way for me to prove my innocence. I knew there was no way to prove to Mr Adams that his niece Melissa was the one who had stolen MY idea. I knew if I made a scene I would kill any chance of getting hired at another advertising firm.
It took everything in me to hold back my tears, apologize and storm out of the room. As I was packing my things in my office, I saw Melissa entering.
‘’ This could have been avoided you know,’’ she whispered.
I raised my left eyebrow.
‘’ If you were smart enough not to gloat in my face that you would become Head of Advertising , I wouldn’t need to do this to throw you out.’’
‘’ Maybe if you were smart enough not to threaten me that I would be fired if I failed for the third time, I wouldn’t need to share that information with you.’’
She moved one step in front, hoping I would take one step back, but I didn’t move.
‘’ Only an idiot would think he could get that kind of promotion in a family business. You didn’t stand a chance anyway, but if you were less arrogant, you would have at least saved yourself from all that embarrassment.‘’
‘’ I feel sorry for all the employees that will be working for you while you will be proudly call yourself Head of Advertising. We all know you can’t run a lemonade stand by yourself, much less an advertising firm.’’
She raised her right hand to slap me but I hold it in the air. With the corner of my eye I saw Mr Adams walking in the hall.
‘’ Aren’t you a bit embarrassed stealing my idea and passing it off as yours? You didn’t even like it!’’ I screamed from the top my lungs secretly hoping he would listen.
‘’I don’t feel embarrassed at all! I did what I have to do to keep the business where it belongs-in the family!’’ she yelled, spitting saliva at me. I prayed Mr Adams had listened.
My prayers were answered. I saw him entering my office, a puzzled look on his office.
‘’Melissa? YOU did this? How dare you? ‘’
Melissa looked like a kid who was caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
‘’ This is MY company and family members who can’t act professionally have no place in it. Pack your things and go. NOW!’’
Melissa stormed out of the room in tears.
‘’Jenny, I owe you an apology. I didn’ t know. I am so sorry. Needless to say, you will get the promotion…and a bigger raise by 10% to make it up for what I put you through. ‘’ he said gently rubbing my right arm.
‘’Again, I apologize. I am going to the board of directors right now to clear this up. Congrats Jenny. The idea was great and I am sure it will be extremely profitable as well.’’
I nodded sweetly, waited for him to close the door behind him and then started dancing salsa by myself.
You can find more stories and books by Mary Papas here.