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[personal profile] wonder_city
Finally. I've been beating on this episode for months. It does what it needs to do.

Believe the Lie

Megan hurried out of the office cafeteria with two small but expensive sandwiches and a bottle of skim milk in her hands. She counted herself fortunate that her counselor let her eat during their sessions. She'd heard a couple of the others complaining because theirs wouldn't, and so on counseling days, they just lost their lunch hour. Granted, the counseling sessions were supposedly voluntary, but pretty much everyone who'd refused to attend had been canned.

Her counselor was sitting in the former "small conference room", her sizeable file open in front of him, next to the pocket-sized but still hefty employee manual he always carried. As she came in and closed the door, he smiled and closed the folder. "Hello, Megan," he said smilingly. "How are you today?"

She responded, cheerfully, "Just fine," because she'd already learned that to answer any other way invited questions that attempted to pry open her feelings like a can opener. She sat down across the table from him.

"Go ahead and dig in," he said, sipping from his cup of coffee. "I'd really hoped I'd see you wearing some of the things we discussed last week."

She forced her smile to stay in place. "Facilities doesn't like us to wear necklaces or rings. Safety issues, you know." Megan had no intention of telling him that she owned no jewelry of the appropriate type, and on her current salary couldn't possibly afford to buy any.

"Ah," he said in a slightly disbelieving tone, taking another sip. "Well, how are things this week?"

Over the past months of her counseling meetings, Megan had wrangled with the difficulty of talking while eating, but never came up with a really successful compromise. She just tried to chew fast. "Doing just fine, really," she said.

"And have you considered some of the things we discussed last week?" he said.

She nodded, and swallowed, and said, "Yes, and I'm going to keep my name as it is. It was my mother's legal name when she had me, and her family has never been very interested in me."

"I see," he said, in a mild tone that put Megan's hackles up. "And what about your father's name?"

"I don't know my father," Megan said, probably a little too shortly. She winced internally, expecting backlash.

"Surely your mother knows his name," he said, "and his name would better fit your... presentation to the world."

Megan chewed a little more slowly. It was hard to read between the lines these days, but it was obvious enough that he was talking about her skin color. The new Human Resources department had been frustrated by her for months now as they tried to fit her into one or another category. She swallowed finally, when he started to fiddle impatiently with his coffee cup, and said, "But you told me that my mother was a bad influence who would ruin my career and I shouldn't speak to her."

He nodded, face impassively friendly as usual, and said, "Just checking."

The butterflies in her stomach relaxed as she realized she'd given the correct answer. For now.

"Have you been working on the feeling better about yourself thing?" He leaned forward, looking her up and down with what may have been meant as a "concerned" look but which came out as a slightly contemptuous sneer.

She really, really didn't want to discuss the makeup failures with him. "Yes," she said, doing her best to look wide-eyed and honest and blank. He made a note on his clipboard.

"How are you feeling about the other thing we talked about?"

She was immediately on the alert. She remembered talking about her frustration with the work -- she'd been learning construction site management before the reorg -- and he'd pointed out that her performance had fallen off before they'd moved her to the facilities group. They'd had a long and convoluted discussion that she couldn't remember very well -- her problematic memory was one of the things that he'd said argued against her getting a more responsible position -- though in the end she'd agreed with him that perhaps... oh yes. "The whole finding new challenges in my current work?"

He beamed. "Yes, good, I'm glad you remember. Have you been looking for challenges that you feel are attainable?"

A treacherous part of her mind said, I have a college degree in this, you asshole, which is more than you do, Mr. MBA. I know what you're doing, which is more than I can say for you. She struggled with that part of her that her counselor found unconstructive and unhelpful. She didn't actually know what he was doing. She couldn't. He was the guy who'd been hired for this, whether she had a degree or not. She'd never been very good at psychology anyway. It wasn't a way to make a living.

He watched her closely, gripping his coffee cup in one hand and the employee manual in the other.

"Yes," she finally choked out. "Yes, I've been looking."

"Nothing has looked interesting yet?" he asked.

She knew it was the wrong answer the moment she said, "No," but couldn't actually think of anything. She finished her sandwich and avoided his eyes.

"Hm," he said, fiddling with the handbook. "Perhaps you need to think smaller. Little things that would give you quicker satisfaction."

She was about to protest that she didn't want smaller things, but bigger projects to be happier, but she stopped even before she opened her mouth. It would only have caused problems -- another argument, more condescension from him -- and besides, really, was she up to big projects these days? Maybe the new management was right and she couldn't keep all the moving parts of a project in mind any more -- if she ever had been able to. It wasn't like she could even keep a friendship going, much less a relationship these days. If she couldn't handle something simple like a friend, how could she deal with the complexity of a construction project? Better to leave that to people who weren't… who were functional.

"Well," she said tentatively, "I do like to have projects I can finish. And, you know, see that I've done a good job with them."

"That's the ticket," he said approvingly, and elation at getting the right answer loosened her joints. "I've heard that the supervisor is very pleased with the very thorough work you've been doing on the floors and kitchenettes in Engineering. I think he might even give you some of the after-hours work on the executive floor."

Oh, joy, she thought, remembering the tiny rake Esteban had shown her, the one that was supposed to be used to comb the fringe on the expensive Persian rugs the new owners had put in. But she smiled as best she could and said, "That's great."

He reached across the table, as he did at the end of every session, and put a hand on hers. She had to force herself not to jerk her hand away. He said, smiling warmly, "You're doing very well, Megan. We appreciate the effort you've put into learning to be a good team player."

She walked out, taking the sandwich wrappers and bottle with her, and as usual, spent the next several moments in the nearest janitor's closet, shutting her eyes and leaning her head against the cinder block wall.

After a few minutes, she fumbled the cheap compact out of her pocket and tried to inspect her face in the mirror. She smoothed the hair around her face and checked her ponytail, but didn't bother with trying to do anything with makeup. She inhaled deeply of the cleaning-product-scented air and sallied back out to her work again.

An hour later, she encountered one of the temp workers in the hall. She was nearly as tall as Megan, with broad shoulders, very dark skin, and a flattop haircut. She punched Megan lightly in the shoulder and growled, "Hey," as she stomped past.

Megan looked after her, stricken by something. Several somethings. Thoughts leapt through her mind: How does she get away with that? Did anyone see her touch me? Am I going to hear about this next week?

She retreated to one of the service corridors, where she folded up on herself and wept torrentially, biting her arm to keep from making noise. There was a pain in her chest where something enormous was missing, and she'd only just noticed.

Date: 2013-08-25 09:48 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ow. Damn. I almost wish you'd left this in a less effective form. It got under my skin deep and fast with the emotional abuse, then yanked hard with the ending. It's arguably too good.

Also, I just now remembered that the Once And Future Protagonist was named Megan. It has been too damn long since the focus shifted away from her and you went on hiatus.

But I don't mean to gripe. It's great to have you back and past this hurdle. I'm going to have to find the time to go back and reread everything and get re-invested.

Date: 2013-08-31 08:40 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Thank you for the comments about the effectiveness of the episode! I wasn't sure whether it would work, but I'm glad to hear it did.

Megan and Suzanne are, sadly, very absent in this story, but there's good reason for that.


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