“MATT!” Sam Sworen’s bellow thundered over the intercom. Under the purplish fluorescent lighting in his cube, Matt cringed. He’d transferred to this office a month ago, but already he regretted it. With a heavy sigh, Matt smoothed his hair, straightened his tie, and went to see what Sam wanted.

“You rang, sir?” Matt repressed the urge to wrinkle his nose in disgust as he eyed the steep piles of papers, scuffed manila folders, and soggy paper coffee cups that littered Sam’s desk.

“You’re damned right, I rang,” Sam growled, his thick eyebrows furrowed into a V. “I can’t find the Hawkins file. I asked you to get it to me yesterday! What the hell’s taking you so long?”

“Hawkins?” Matt frowned and smoothed a small wrinkle in his purple paisley silk tie before adding, “I sent the file to you right after you asked me for it, sir.”

“Where the hell is it, then?” Sam gestured at the pile of files in front him as he glared at Matt, a gleam of triumph in his eye at catching an Associate unprepared.

“In there, sir.” Matt pointed at the unused computer terminal at Sam’s elbow. “I scanned and emailed it to you, right after you asked me for it.” Sam’s craggy face crumpled in disgust as he glared at the computer; the only thing Sam Sworen hated more than Junior Associates was email. One corner of Matt’s mouth curved into a fleeting smirk.

Sam heaved a sigh, and sent Matt away with an imperious wave.

Back in his cubicle, Matt crunched numbers, his work interrupted at regular intervals by bellows from Sam. As he worked, Matt fantasized about showing Sam up in a variety of delightful ways. By lunchtime the quitting fantasy had evolved to include making an impassioned exit speech while standing on Sam’s desk, then yelling “I QUIT!” over the intercom for the whole office to hear. Feeling better, Matt grabbed his jacket and headed for the elevators to go find a sandwich.

Matt didn’t notice he wasn’t alone in the elevator until the mirrored doors closed and he saw Sam’s reflection, glaring at him in the glass. Too late, Matt realized that his dismay at being stuck in an elevator, alone with Sam, was written all over his face, and clearly reflected in the mirror.

“MATT!” Sam chuckled as Matt flinched. Their eyes met in the mirror before Matt dropped his gaze to the floor. “I know you think I’m too hard on you,” Sam grumbled. “All you twenty-somethings are the same, too soft. You can’t make it these days if you’re soft. One day you’ll thank me for toughening you up.”

Whatever else Sam might have said was cut off as the elevator stopped at the first of the Executive floors. A distinguished looking man of about Sam’s age entered. As the doors slid closed Matt admired the man’s expensive suit; success was written in every stitch. Sam’s sparse comb-over, off-the-rack slacks and wrinkled white shirt, punctuated by a baby-poop colored tie, looked even shabbier by comparison. Matt saw the sleek executive’s eyebrows lift as he came to the same conclusion.  As he eyed Sam in the mirror, a look of recognition dawned, and his mouth formed a small, cruel smile.

“SAM!” The man bellowed. Matt’s mouth fell open at the sight of granite-hard Sam, visibly flinching. The look of bald dislike that passed over Sam’s thick features wasn’t unlike the one that Matt himself had worn only moments ago.

“I can’t believe you’re still alive and kicking!” The executive’s chiseled features rearranged themselves into a smirk as he looked Sam up and down with distaste. “You’re not still in Accounts, are you? I thought you would’ve retired by now, you old dog, but then again, who could afford to retire on what they pay down there?” The elevator shimmied to a stop. “Too bad only one of us got that promotion, huh, Sam?” The executive cuffed Sam on the shoulder in a fake gesture of good will before exiting onto another of the executive floors, leaving behind a cloud of spicy cologne.

Matt hardly dared look at Sam. Sam stood stock still, jaw clenched, eyes fixed on the illuminated numbers over the door. Matt could feel the burn of Sam’s humiliation radiating in waves. When the doors opened, Sam exited without meeting Matt’s eyes.

After lunch Matt had no sooner settled in at his desk when he heard Sam’s bellow, but for once, the bellow wasn’t directed at him. Sam was hollering at Ted, the other Junior Associate. Free from Sam’s constant stream of demands, Matt worked steadily.

En route to the copy room Matt encountered Ted scurrying down the oatmeal colored hallway, his arms loaded with dog eared manila folders. As Matt passed Sam’s office Sam looked up, expecting Ted, and their eyes met. Sam harrumpfed and looked away, but not before Matt saw the mottled flush creeping darkly up his beefy neck.

Matt stepped aside to let Ted and his load of files enter Sam’s office. As he listened to Sam grumble and Ted stammer, Matt thought how easy it would be to slip away, make his copies, and forget about Sam. But the cruel smirk on the face of the executive in the elevator lingered in his mind’s eye. Matt fingered his paisley tie as he cast a last glance down the hallway in the direction of the copy room. He squared his shoulders and took a resolute breath; There was more than one way to climb the corporate ladder.

Matt pushed the door to Sam’s office wide. He strode in and reached across Sam’s disaster of a desk to power up the dormant computer.  He felt a muscle in his jaw twitch as Sam’s wary eyes met his. “You old timers are all the same,” Matt drawled, “too stubborn to use the computer. You can’t make it these days without technology, Sam. You’ll thank me one day for making you learn.”

Kelly Ospina lives in central New Jersey with far too many children and animals. When not writing, she can usually be found doing laundry, yelling at children to pick up after themselves and cleaning up dog hair.

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