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The Wrong Girl - Chapter 5, Part 1


Jake
*
Tuesday the kids caught their bus without a hitch, and I got to work in plenty of time. My mind had been buzzing all night with thoughts on Ellie’s tour the previous day, and where I could implement some changes.

I could see what JJ meant—Ellie was intent on projecting a sort of ‘I’m one of you’ persona to the staff. While there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with that, I wasn’t ready to conclude it was completely harmless. Clearly, she didn’t have a very good idea of what her duties would be as CEO. JJ and I had discussed at length what occupied his days, and it was far more than lunches and golfing. Ellie seemed to believe the meetings he was in from dawn til the end of day were not important to the position of CEO, which was likely the first thing we had to fix.

However, I still wanted to get a true feeling for how Ellie spent her days. So I went into the office intending to observe her morning schedule to see how much she handled as the Assistant CEO.

And just like yesterday, heat grew under my collar the closer I got to her office. Knowing I’d be in her presence all day was equal parts pleasure and torture. After her initial upset, we’d fallen into a comfortably flirtatious tone. Which she stamped out with the insistence that we keep everything professional.

Which was fair. There was no way around that. But it seemed that every time I so much as asked a question, her attitude toward me was like I’d betrayed her somehow through no fault of my own. I still got flashes of her sultry fire from time to time when she forgot her annoyance in the heat of something she was passionate about.

Then she quickly returned to the present and pulled back those tantalizing threads of sparkle. I had no idea how to return to a friendly tone, work together, and keep my attraction to Ellie firmly in control.

But somehow, I had to do it.

After dropping my briefcase in my office, I pulled in a deep breath, then followed the sweet, warm fragrance of her perfume down the hall and into Ellie’s office.

“Morning,” I knocked twice on the open door and waited to be invited in—military habit.

“Morning,” she replied, glancing up at me with a cautious smile. “Did you need something?”

“Erm, just checking in to see what’s on our agenda today.” I was still standing in the doorway, trying not to be awkward and failing miserably. Ellie had on a yellow flowered sundress that displayed a tantalising glimpse of cleavage and reminded me far too much of the red dress from Friday. The warm vanilla and musk of her perfume filled the room—I might as well have been standing right next to her, for all the good keeping my distance did me.

“Did we have an appointment?” She asked, confused.

“Well, I’m supposed to be here to help see how I can develop your leadership style into what Aspen Ridge Lodging needs from a CEO. I’d say in order to do that, I need to do more than follow you around for a few hours, wouldn’t you?”

A grimace crossed her face briefly, telling me exactly how she felt about that idea, before she recovered herself and smiled. “Sure, take a seat. But I’m not doing anything interesting this morning. Just answering some email at the moment.”

I slid into the chair facing her desk, as opposed to the jungle chair in the corner. “Well, that’s inevitable,” I replied with a grin. “I think everyone has to deal with the occasional email.”

“Nature of the beast,” she agreed, her eyes darting back to her computer screen.

“So, I have a question for you: Did JJ give you any sort of list of responsibilities? Or an evaluation of any sort, to update you on your progress or his thoughts on your responsibilities?”

She snorted. “Hardly. The first year I was here, he had me sit in on his meetings and just follow him around everywhere. It was a total waste of time, and that’s how I figured out how little he actually does that pertains to this job. In fact, it was my idea to take on employee satisfaction as my focus. I never had an agenda or goals. It’s like he expected me to glean his priorities and just materialize the job for myself out of thin air. I found where I thought I could have the most impact.”

The holes in this chain of command were becoming abundantly clear. “So, would you say you feel as though your father has given you very little direction in terms of what he expects?”

“Absolutely,” she nodded, relief clear in her expression. “So I figured out a path for myself, and now I feel as if I’m being punished for not doing it his way. If he’d told me he had certain expectations, I would have met them. I thought the point was to allow me to find my way, and now that I finally have, he’s brought in the calvary to fix me,” she gestured in my direction.

“Which, no offense, is pretty messed up.”

I drew in a deep breath to force down my annoyance. I understood her frustration, but that didn’t mean she was 100% right, either.

“I think it’s reasonable to state that his expectations may have been unreasonable. You can’t tell someone they failed to accomplish something when you never told them what you wanted.”

“Exactly, thank you.”

“So I will ask him to provide us with a list of expectations to work on. That’ll help us figure out where the gaps lay between what you’re doing and what he wants.”

Anger flashed across her stunning features. “Now wait a second—what do you mean, a list of expectations?”

“Well, if your commanding officer believes you aren’t meeting expectations, he has to first set forth a list of expectations and provide them to you. It’s setting you up for failure to just expect you to glean what he wants without clear directives. No wonder you two are at odds.”

“We’re not at odds.” Her body stiffened and her voice became sharp. “Just because we have different management styles, that doesn’t mean I’m failing.”

I straightened in my seat. “No, absolutely not. I didn’t mean to imply there was some sort of failure on your part. Just a miscommunication that we can certainly clear up.”

“I’m not following.” Her tone was flat, and the slight downturn to her lips did nothing to make them less appealing.

“Look at it this way: Imagine you’re back in school, and the professor gave you a test. Except the questions are all blank, and you’re still supposed to choose the right answer. It’s not fair for him to have some sort of expectations that he doesn’t tell you. There’s no way you could live up to them.”

“Well, yes, but that’s not the point. The point is, I don’t want to live up to his criteria. I want him to trust me to lead the way I want to. My way.”

I tried to think of an example to use, but unfortunately the military didn’t really set a precedent for ‘willful daughter wants to do her own thing with the family business.’

“I hear what you’re saying. But before we can try to spin him over to your way of thinking, we have to first understand what he wants, right? At least then we can meet in the middle and see where the differences lay.”

Her eyes narrowed as she thought it over, but eventually she sighed. “Okay, you have a point.”

“Thank you. That has been known to happen once or twice.”

A half smile curled her lips. “Don’t get cocky. You could just as easily lose it.”

“Okay, I’ll be careful.” I waited for a moment, but she had nothing else to add. “So… is this entire morning devoted to email?”

“No, actually Tuesday morning is my office hours.”

“Office hours?”

“Yeah, I make sure I don’t have any appointments and just am in my office, available, for anything that may come up.”

“What sort of thing comes up on Tuesday mornings?”

“This is when employees know I’m available to take their suggestions, or address an issue they have.”

This employee hand-holding thing went much deeper than even I realized, although I had my suspicions about why. “And how often do employees take advantage of your office hours?”

“I mean, I can’t say it’s every week, but I have been able to help someone out of a tight spot before,” Ellie replied with an edge to her tone. She was shockingly defensive to even the simplest question.

“Okay,” I replied, appeasing. Even though I understood why, her defensiveness was quickly becoming frustrating. “Just so I’m following, you devote this morning to checking your email and waiting for someone to need your help? And that’s at any level, right? Not just VPs and managers?”

“It’s not for the managers, actually. If they need something, they go to the VPs. This is only for my hourly employees.” She answered flippantly, eyes on her computer screen as if to show how little importance I held.

I swallowed down my surprise. “So, you have separate office hours for the managers?”

“No, why would I?” She tapped at her keyboard, obviously replying to an email. “I try to do things in blocks, so every day I tend to the urgent email, then I leave the rest for Tuesday office hours. If it can wait, it waits.”

“And how do your managers and VPs feel about this practice?”

She shrugged. “If they need me to take care of something sooner, they mark it as urgent. Otherwise, they seem fine with waiting.”

“No, I meant the office hours thing. How does the rest of your management team feel about it?”

Her eyes flashed with annoyance when she redirected her gaze in my direction. “Is there a point you’re trying to get at? Because you’re asking a lot of vague questions, but I feel you have a point somewhere.”

“It’s just unusual to me, so I’m trying to understand.”

“What’s there to understand? I want to be available if the employees need me. End of story.”

I kept my tone light, attempting not to flare up her anger. “Yeah, that’s the part that doesn’t make sense to me. You have an entire management network whose job it is to make sure the employees are taken care of. There’s a chain of command. And you’re encouraging your employees to bypass the system that’s designed to help them and take their issues straight to the top.”

“Well, sometimes there are things that the manager can’t handle. Maybe their problem is with their manager.” She stated this as if it made perfect sense, but was seemingly oblivious to the obvious.

“So, there’s no system in place to deal with that?”

“There is, but I wanted to offer an alternative.”

I can’t help the head shake. “I’m sorry, it just seems like something from the good idea fairy.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Ellie’s tone was sharp, the crack of a whip in an otherwise quiet room.

“Sorry, the lingo is so ingrained in me I don’t really know what civilians say instead. When a higher up comes up with something they think will be a great new program—something they want people to move on immediately but haven’t thoroughly vetted—we call it the good idea fairy. Like a fairy flew by and dropped this magic idea in their head without any sort of practicality to back it up.”

“Well, I’m sorry I don’t know the lingo,” she snapped, her cheeks going red as she turned in her seat to face me fully. “But I happen to think taking care of our employees is important.”

“I don’t disagree with you,” I hurried to agree, gesturing with open hands. “It is. But—and correct me if I’m wrong—instead of working with your management to come up with an actionable plan at all levels, you made it your particular responsibility.”
“So?”

“So, you’ve taken agency away from your lower-level managers to provide that care and connection.” I crossed my legs, trying to assume a more relaxed posture.

“I know you did it because you were bored and needed to feel you were doing something of value, and that’s on JJ for not giving you enough duties to keep you busy. But did you consider your managers may feel stuck or overruled by these policies? It undermines their authority, for you to allow employees to come sit in your office and complain whenever they get the urge. It undermines yours as well.”

Ellie’s hands splayed on the surface of her desk, the color on her face continued to darken. “You have a lot of nerve to make any sort of assumption about how any of my employees feel. You’ve been here all of a day. You know nothing about how I relate to my teams, my managers, or even the VPs. And yet you sit here telling me everything I’ve worked on for the last three years is a dumb idea from some fairy.”

I backpedaled, raising my hands to show contrition. “Look, I’m not saying your ideas are bad—far from it. The whole point of the good idea fairy is the ideas are good—the issue is that most ideas have to be massaged and vetted before we can turn them into something actionable. I think you took a good idea and ran with it, which is admirable. I just don’t think you took the time to work out all the kinks.”

I could practically see the steam coming out of her ears. “Well, thanks for your opinion,” she snapped. “I will take it under advisement. If you don’t mind, I have a meeting that’s just come up and I think it would be better if you didn’t tag along. But I’ll see you after lunch so we can do some more rounds and perhaps help you get a better perspective.”

There was clearly no cooling her down—I thought being direct was the best approach, but clearly I’d ruffled her feathers. Perhaps I showed my cards too early. “Okay, I think that’s a great idea. I’ll reconnect with JJ and see if we can put together a list of expectations in the meantime. I look forward to this afternoon.”

Ellie flashed me a hard, sarcastic smile, waiting for me to depart. 

I stood and turned my back, feeling once again as if the conversation hadn’t gone the way I intended.

“Jake?” When she spoke, her tone was softer, and I turned eagerly to find some sort of silver lining. 

“Yes?”

But she wasn’t looking at me, her focus completely on her email. “Will you close the door, please? Thanks.”

“No problem,” I replied, pulling it gently behind me before I breathed a deep sigh.

That did not go how I wanted at all.



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