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Making the Cut excerpt

Making the Cut

Chapter 1

“They can’t do this to me!” I stand up and cringe as my chair flies backwards and thuds against the polished wooden floor. I glare at my boss, waiting for him to justify the abomination.

Derek shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Chloe, but it’s out of my hands. The Board has made its decision.”

“But I’m capable of doing the job! I’ve been acting in the position for the last three months.”

“And you‘ve done a great job. But the Board feels you’re not up to it in an ongoing capacity.”

My stomach churns. I’d pinned all my hopes on this position. Without it, I’m just treading water.  I swallow hard and turn away from Derek, as I feel tears sting.

I stare at the row of marketing posters lining the wall of Derek’s office, and try to digest the news. I’ve coveted the Marketing Manager position ever since I joined the theatre company and now it has been snatched from me. I feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach. As the tears threaten to flood my eyes, the posters became a blur of colour, mocking me.  You didn’t get it! You’re not good enough. I ignore it. I know it’s not true.

“So who the hell got the job?”

“Patrick Jensen.”

“Damn. I should have known that little upstart would dazzle them with his bullshit.”

“He has impressive credentials.”

I’d googled Patrick as soon as his resume arrived and the results had matched his claims. But I’d hoped the fact I’d worked in the position gave me an advantage. Not so. Someone has it in for me, and as I turn back and stare at Derek’s grave face, I wonder if he’d truly supported my application.

“You were on the panel, Derek. Didn’t you have a say?”

Derek stands up and walks around his desk. I flinch as his hand touches my shoulder.

“I went into bat for you, Chloe. You were born to be Marketing Manager.”

Sure! That’s what he says to my face. But what did he say to the Board? I shrug off his hand and move away.

I don’t want his pity.

I want the job.

He sighs. “They feel you’re not ready for that level of responsibility.”

Not ready? Bullshit! What about the long hours I’d worked? I’d been doing my PA job AND the marketing role since Susan had resigned abruptly.

“And who came up with that little insight? Hey, I bet it was Malcolm. He’s always had it in for me.”

Derek walks to the window, and looks down at his multi-million dollar view of Sydney Harbour.

As I stare at Derek’s back, the realisation sinks in. “It was Malcolm, wasn’t it? He’s such a bloody chauvinist. I bet he thinks I’m not capable because I’m a woman.”

I walk over to the window, giving only a cursory glance to the yachts dotted across the pristine blue water. If Malcolm were here, I’d push him out the window. Instead, he’d sent his messenger to deliver the bad news.

“Chloe, don’t lay a gender discrimination rap on Malcolm because he’s hired a man for the position this time.”

“And he’ll hire a man next time. Malcolm thinks women belong in the kitchen – not in the board room, or in managerial positions.” Come to think of it, Malcolm had a lot in common with my father.

“That’s not it at all.”

“Of course it is. What else does Patrick have that I don’t? Dangly bits: it’s the only explanation.”

I’d never seen the purpose of dangly bits. External genitals seemed like a huge inconvenience, and I’d utilised the advantage over my childhood male friends when we scaled fences. But dangly bits seemed to be advantageous on the career ladder.

“It’s more about your age than your gender.”

“Then don’t tell me it’s not discriminatory. I knew there was something behind it. How old is Patrick anyway?”

“I think he’s –,” Derek covers his mouth and coughs, “ – twenty-eight.”

“What?”

“He’s twenty-eight.”

“So he’s got two years on me. That makes all the difference!”

“Patrick is an arts admin superhero. He’s turned around organisations that have been heading for permanent bump out.”

“But the Board must’ve been happy with my sales figures?”

Hamlet sells itself. It’s on the school syllabus.”

“I did all the work. Susan didn’t book in a single school group.”

“I know.”

“So why have I been shafted?

Derek shakes his head. “You’re a fabulous personal assistant. You know so much about the company, you know the corporate history, and you know how everything works. Sometimes too much knowledge is a dangerous thing,”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re seen as a threat. There are other people in this organisation who have influence with the Board. They’re trying to hold you back. They were threatened by how well you took on the marketing role, and still managed to do your own job.”

“You’re kidding! Who’s got it in for me?”

Derek puts his finger on the side of his nose and I expect him to pick it.

“You know I can’t tell you that. In fact this whole conversation never happened. I recommend you look for another job, before you have to pull out more knives from your back.”

“You’re sacking me?”

“No, of course not. There’s a job for you here as long as you want it. I somehow don’t think you’ll want it much longer.”

I sigh. This conversation is not heading in the direction I had visualised. By now, I should have been walking out the door, triumphant, revelling in the knowledge that the title of Marketing Manager was now mine.

Something was rotten in the state of Denmark.

“What the hell is going on, Derek?”

He shakes his head again. “That’s all I can say, Chloe. I’m happy to give you a reference. Anytime. And you can take as much time as you need to attend interviews. I’ll cover it. In fact, tell me who you want to work for, I’ll make some calls.”

He sits back at his desk and reaches for the phone.

Fuck Derek! I’m not giving him the satisfaction of helping me into another job. I’d wanted him to help me get this job. It was time to turn the situation back to my advantage. And then start putting the feelers out for a new arts admin job where I wouldn’t be treated like dog shit on a stiletto heel.

“That’s not necessary. I’m sure I’ll find another position…when I’m ready.”

Derek forces a smile. “Of course you will.”

“So you agree I did a great job when I replaced Susan?”

“Your sale figures were exceptional. You were organised. You juggled both positions.”

“I know. So put your money where your mouth is, and pay me for the time at the management rate.”

His smile vanishes. “You know I can’t do that.”

“Why the hell not? The Board saved money by not hiring anyone until now. I worked long hours to ensure all the work was done. I did it to prove I could do the job. And now the job’s been given to someone else.”

Derek places his glasses back on his nose and takes out his calculator. I watch his long thin fingers pressing the numbers deliberately. I hold my breath. I’m not expecting my bluff to work. I’m almost certain there’s no slush fund.

“How does a four thousand dollar bonus sound?”

I exhale slowly. Calmly. It’s more than I expected. A whole lot more. But I don’t want to appear too eager.

“I don’t know. If I was calculating an hourly rate –”

“Five thousand then?”

“Is this hush money? I mean, am I supposed to take it and piss off?”

“I assure you. Your job is safe.”

“Yeah, until the next Board meeting. When Malcolm decides you’ve given me my termination pay in advance. And

I’ve got twenty minutes to clear out my desk while a security guard waits to escort me out the door.”

Derek chuckles. “You know we can’t afford security guards.”

He takes out the cheque book. His eloquent handwriting swirls across the paper.

He hands me the cheque and I stare at the three zeros and grin. I’ve never held a cheque for this amount with my name on it. This is a nice lot of establishment money. Breathing money. Time to think money. I calculate how much holiday pay the company owes me. Three years work. Minimal two week holiday breaks forced over Christmas. I smile. I’m starting to feel rich.

I frown. “You need a second signature.”

“Of course. I’ll get Francois to sign it on Monday.”

“Doesn’t it have to go before the Board?”

Derek shakes his head. “No, I have the authority. Besides, you’re absolutely right – we did save money. Francois will be happy to sign.”

Francois. The sweet-but-manic artistic director. I’ll miss him. But Derek is mistaken. I’m not going to resign yet. I need the leverage of a current position. Everybody knows the best way to get a job is to have a job. So I will hold onto it until they give me my marching orders or I’m ready to give them the flick.

“So when is the wonder-kid starting?”

“In two weeks’ time.”

“Do I continue in the position until he arrives?”

Derek stands up. “It’s only two weeks. I’m sure you can cope.”

“I can cope. At the higher pay rate.”

“I’m sure this cheque will cover the two weeks.”

“And when Patrick starts?”

“You’ll need to pass the baton – share your corporate memory, pass on the files.”

I feel my face heating up and suddenly my mouth erupts, unable to contain the molten lava any longer. “Why don’t you connect us with tubes overnight so my knowledge can be downloaded to him? Better still, do a brain transplant. Oh, but that would be no good! He’d no longer be the wonder-kid.”  I close my mouth hurriedly. I still want a good reference and it would be better to shut up. Right now.

“Chloe, I do expect you to be professional about this.”

I stand up and straighten my blouse.

“Trust me, Derek. I’ll be professional.”

And I will be. I just needed to refrain from shoving pins into my voodoo doll. I could do that. For two weeks. It’s the interminable future I’m not sure about.

Derek smiles. “I have faith in you, Chloe. One day you will thank the Board for not giving you this job. Remember, ‘For every door that closes, another opens.”

I smile but inwardly groan at the cliché.

Derek glances at his watch. “It’s almost knock-off time. Let’s take an early one. Happy hour is about to start.”

It’d be like drinking with the enemy. Despite Derek’s assurances, I’m not assured. I have enemies within the organisation. And Derek could be one of them. He could be the smiling assassin.

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables,–meet it is I set it down,
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;
At least I’m sure it may be so in Denmark.

“I’ll give it a miss today, Derek. Maybe next week.  But I will take that early mark. I think I’ve worked enough hours.”

“Sure, Chloe. But you better give me the cheque back. It’s not going to do you any good with only one signature on it.”

Damn! The cheque’s already burning a hole in my pocket. I’m itching to spend it. I could do with some retail therapy. I hand the cheque over and wonder if I will see it again. Without a witness to our conversation, Derek could easily cancel it and deny it was ever written.

Derek senses my unease. “I will have this back to you on Monday, Chloe, as soon as Francois signs it. Now, why don’t you go off and do some window shopping.”

******

I walk home through the arcades of the Queen Victoria Building and Myer, mentally spending the thousands that will soon hit my bank account. My wardrobe needs an update, especially now that I’m job-hunting. But I can’t spend the whole lot on clothes. I need to put some aside in case the wonder-kid pisses me off so badly, I quit on the spot. And at the moment, that’s a strong possibility.

I’ll put three thousand in a fixed deposit and spend the rest however the hell I choose. I’m not going to tell Travis about my sudden influx of cash. He’ll only want me to invest in blue chip shares or buy the latest gadget. My man Travis is the darling of marketers: an ‘early adopter’ – he has to be the first in the whole damn thirty-storey apartment block we live in, to have the new shiny piece of technology.

My stride becomes brisker as my conversation with Derek replays in my head. But I keep reminding myself of the cheque with my name and all those zeroes on it. Until that money is securely in my account, there’s no point getting mad. I had earned every cent of this bonus and it was time to treat myself. With reinvention.

I pause in front of the hairdresser and gaze at the photos of the freshly-coiffed women. I run my hands through my shoulder length brown hair. It’s time for a change. A complete change. I walk in and ask if they have any time available. They do. As the scissors snip and my hair hits the salon floor, there’s no turning back.

An hour and a half later, I stand outside the Woolworths Metro gazing at my new short and sassy blonde hair. I run my hand across my bare neck. It feels naked. It could take time to get used to the new ‘me’.

I sort through the ready-to-cook meals rejecting the ordinary and predictable. No honey soy stir-fries or sickly sweet and sour for me. Today, Malcolm had unwittingly launched me on a new trajectory. I’m no longer going to settle for what the universe had decided to dish out to me. I will make my own choices. The hotter the better. I pick up a Chilli Beef Stir-fry with four red chilli icons glowering at me. I grin. New hair, new food, new life. Anything is possible.

********

Luke Radcliffe paced his classroom, peering out the window every few minutes, looking for Mrs McInnes’ BMW. She was not usually this late. There were days when it seemed time had all but forgotten Bilby Creek. The remaining twelve months of his contract could seem like a lifetime. On days like this, when the parents assumed he would provide after school care, he wondered what would happen if he went home, leaving the child unsupervised. But he knew he would never do that.

He glanced down at the young girl seated at the small wooden desk.

“Suzy, your mum knows she has to pick you up this afternoon?”

The seven-year-old nodded happily, tossed her pigtails back and resumed her drawing. The teacher sat at his desk and took a folder of students’ stories from his briefcase.  Might as well get some marking done while he was waiting for the child’s mother.

“Mr. Radcliffe, I’m sorry I’m late.  I didn’t mean to keep you waiting.”

“Mrs. McInnes, I thought you might have forgotten…” He looked up to see Suzy’s older sister standing in the doorway, the hemline of her high school uniform barely scraping her tanned thighs. He swallowed hard. When did she grow up so suddenly?

“Kirsty…” Luke stood up and forced himself to focus on the girl’s face. Was it his imagination or had her uniform got a whole lot shorter?

“Kirsty!” Suzy shrieked. “You’re late!”

“Yeah, kiddo, I’m late.” Kirsty walked over to Suzy and ruffled her sister’s hair. “Pack up you stuff while I talk to Mr. Radcliffe.”

She walked over to his desk, a smile dancing on her lips.

“The Grease auditions are on this weekend. You are going to try out, aren’t you, Mr. Radcliffe? You were awesome in Oklahoma.”

She passed him a coloured flyer, her fingertips lingering a moment too long on his wrist. His pulse quickened.

He nodded, staring at the audition notice.

“Thanks for reminding me, Kirsty. I’d forgotten. It’s probably time to have fun again.”

Fun. He’d forgotten the meaning of the word. He’d been wallowing in self-pity since he and Cindy had broken up.

“It’s Grease,” Kirsty said. “How could you not have fun?”

Kirsty sat on the teacher’s desk and crossed her legs, looking up at him. “Speaking of fun, have you heard the rumour about the film festival?”

“Film festival?” The teacher racked his brain for recent rumours but nothing resembled a film festival. He’d remember that. He was definitely out of the loop.

“Bilby Creek is going to have its own short film festival. It’s about time something happened in this place.”

“You sure it’s not just a rumour?”

‘Nope. Queen Elizabeth has already co-opted Uncle Wal to be on the committee.”

“Now Kirsty, you shouldn’t refer to Mrs. Barrington in that manner.”

Kirsty grinned. “C’mon Mr. Radcliffe, it’s not like Mrs. Barrington isn’t proud of her nickname. She loves being the Queen Bee of Bilby Creek.”

Kirsty was right. Elizabeth Barrington was on almost every committee in town. And if Elizabeth was overseeing a film festival, it would bloody well happen.

“Yes, she does.  Still a film festival is a great idea to bring the community together.”

“Yeah, life in Bilby Creek has suddenly got a lot more exciting.”

He smiled, and placed the homework folder back in his briefcase. “Now, Kirsty, much as I’d like to stay and talk to you, I need to get home, and I’m sure Suzy does too.” He snapped his briefcase shut.

“C’mon Suz, time to go home.”  She jumped off the desk and held out her hand to her younger sister. “I’ll see you at the auditions, Mr. Radcliffe.”

“Bye Mr. Radcliffe,” said the young girl.

“See you on Monday, Suzy.”

Luke watched the pair walk out of his classroom, hand-in-hand. The seven-year-old’s skirt a sensible length, muddied by her playground antics. The older sister’s uniform, fitted and tight, and oh so short. What was she now? He did some quick mental calculations. Seventeen. And an absolute stunner. She was going to be a heartbreaker.

*****
As I open our apartment door, I wonder what possessed me to move in with Travis. It seemed logical at the time. After all, I’d been spending so much time here, my housemates hardly ever saw me. But this was his place, not mine. And six months later, it was still his place, not mine.

Travis had grudgingly pushed his clothes to one side in the built-in wardrobe and emptied the left-hand bedside cabinet. But my furniture is still in storage while his lounge room is chock-full of surround sound, plasma, Xbox and boy toys. I feel displaced, homeless among the technology.

I slide my meal into the fridge and pour myself a glass of wine. We used to go out on Friday nights, but since I’d become a household fixture, Travis works back. And with my best friend married and domesticated, I often find myself alone. So Friday is my DVD night – the night to catch up on the escapist reality television I missed during the week. Travis hates reality shows. And Friday night is the night to spend an hour on the phone gossiping to my mum. But none of that is vital now. Finding a new Patrick-free job is vital.

I boot up the computer and watch the screen flicker to life. I update my resume and post it to several job recruitment websites.

I open my email and watch as the messages pop up in my inbox. One from Mum. She’s out for the evening so I can’t ring her. An avalanche of spam about enlarging my penis. Ha! And two from Travis. I open Travis’ email. One was sent at lunchtime and one this evening. But I’m growing tired of the empty platitudes, the electronic messages, the SMS, and the voice mail he barrages me with, in the mistaken belief that it makes up for the lack of intimacy between us.
My fingers run across the mail bunched between the computer monitor and the processor.  It’s haphazardly shoved together with no sense of order. It was a wonder any bills were paid at all. I sort through quickly in case there is anything major.

I pull out a letter addressed to Travis on extremely official looking letterhead, scanning the contents quickly so I can decide where to file it.  My mouth falls open and my stomach clenches as I pick out my name amongst the fine print.

It has been brought to our attention by your concerned parents that a Ms. Chloe Watkins is co-habiting with you.
After discussion with Mr. and Mrs. Wells, it is highly recommended that you do not transfer any interest in your property assets to Ms. Chloe Watkins until it is assured that the relationship is bona fide and permanent.
Furthermore, it is imperative that you take pre-emptive action to secure your assets against any claim by Ms. Watkins, arising from your domestic arrangement.
In respect of the significant contribution that you have made to the property prior to the commencement of the domestic arrangement, it is recommended that an agreement is signed and witnessed by all parties, whereby Ms. Watkins will continue to pay a market rate of rent, with the clear understanding that this gives her the right to stay at the property for as long as she continues to pay, with no claim to any property asset.
I attach the following agreement.

What the fuck?  Domestic arrangement? Bona fide?

This had to be the work of Travis’ mother. She didn’t want me to be a part of the family. She often made comments about the disparity of our income.  The disparity of our social backgrounds.  But a pre-nup?  It wasn’t even a pre-nup. It was the pre-nup with no nup. Because the last thing that Mrs. Wells wanted was me to marry her darling son.

I stare at the solicitor’s letter.

Surely Travis wasn’t going to agree to this?

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