1 1: Terrible Two

Tapping a pen against a glass of water, Yvonne waited for a crucial response to an email which would determine if she would finish work at five o’clock or after everyone else. Michael, who shared an office with her, stopped typing and stared at her pointedly.

Eventually she noticed his attention and asked, “What?”

He smiled warmly, which momentarily distracted her from absorbing the words which belied the expression entirely. “You know,” he said, “I couldn’t work with a more distracting person.”

She was still tapping the glass. “What?”

Michael directed his gaze at her active hand. Immediately she stopped and winced guiltily. “Sorry.”

“No problem. Tonight you can make me feel better by buying me an extra-”

“Yes!” she hooted, clapping her hands.

Michael grinned. “Well, gee, Eve. You’ve never been so eager to buy me a beer before.”

She rolled her eyes. “No, Michael. I am going to do no such thing. The darling people at the Charity Circle have just informed me that they will send the material tomorrow. That means-” she started.

“We’re goin’ home at five!” Michael finished with triumph.

The door was pushed open before they could complete their customary celebratory high five across the room. Just in time.

An office junior walked in to inform them there was a meeting in the boardroom in a few minutes.

“Who’s attending?” Michael asked with a frown.

“All department executives and top floor,” they were informed, before the young man ducked out of their office space.

Yvonne stuck out her tongue at the closing door.

Standing up, she rounded her desk and preceded Michael out of their joint office.

“Mm,” Michael muttered. “Love that view, sweets. Really makes my day to see that booty.”

Yvonne laughed at the statement. “You’d think that after seeing it every day for, oh-” she pretended to think “-fifteen years you’d get used to it.”

“Five years,” he corrected.

She stopped before her hand touched the door handle. There was a slight frown of confusion on her pretty face.

Yvonne was sure she still remembered the day they had met.

They were two new kids in the advanced martial arts class and she had recognised the moment that Michael had made the big mistake of underestimating what the cute little girl could do. It had made her a little angry at first, but then all she was here to do was train- so that is what she did.

After four frustrating rounds of defeat, Michael had finally gotten his head screwed on enough to focus and win a round, but by then practice was over and it was time to go home.

After the lesson, Michael was sitting out front, waiting for his dad to pick him up. A part of him hadn’t gotten over the humiliation of his loss, but for the most part, Michael just couldn’t wait to get home. He was used to being the youngest in the class and not having too many people to talk to after the session was over.

“People always look at me and expect me to be bad at stuff.”

The person had spoken from right next to him.

He had looked up and Yvonne had smiled and said to him that that sort of thing happened all the time, but he didn’t have to hold it against her.

Michael had looked at her sullenly as she sat down close to him. Her smile had widened hopefully and his face had gone bright red.

“Great,” he’d muttered miserably. “I just got my butt handed to me by the prettiest girl in the entire academy. Kill me now.”

Yvonne’s jaw had dropped momentarily. Then she’d closed her mouth and looked down at her shoes. “My name’s Yvonne Baker.”

Pause.

“I’m Michael.”

“Do you,” she had begun hesitantly, “think we could be friends?”

Michael’s face had gone even redder but there was a slight smile on his face as he had replied.

“Yeah. I think we could.”

That had been fifteen years ago and she said as much in the present.

Michael remembered how they had met long ago, too. With a patient smile, he explained. “I’ve known you for that many years but admit it- if I’d openly appreciated your ass in karate class or at basketball games you’d have kicked mine.”

Yvonne paused for a short moment.

“You have a point.”

“And,” he added, joining her as they finally departed from their office, “there were the cold years of university. You at Harvard Business School, me at SCU. We barely saw each other then. You, traipsing across America with that fool of a man.”

Yvonne laughed out loud. “I so wasn’t traipsing and I wouldn’t call two states America.”

“Uh-uh. I said across. California and New York- tell me they are not on opposite sides of America.”

“You got me.”

“I still love your butt, though.” Pause. “And I notice you didn’t dispute the ‘fool of a man’ part... very wise.”

That is how they entered the boardroom.

Yvonne was laughing and Michael was grinning. A striking pair.

“Glad you two made it,” intoned one of the senior executives. “Always late and last to enter anyhow.”

“Aw, come on, man!” Michael said good-naturedly, “Seldom are we late.”

“And,” Yvonne smiled triumphantly, “never are we last.”

And to prove that statement, in rushed the executive who had held up the meeting the longest. Beverly Court, the Senior Executive of the Computers Department.

“At ease, my dear soldiers,” smiled the seemingly benevolent chairman of Paxell Holdings.

Richard Paxell was aged fifty-two and the proud founder of a fast growing corporation. It was often said that his innocent face gave him the advantage over his competitors because no one ever saw the man’s killer instinct until it was too late.

“I have called this informal meeting to update you all on some changes that have come upon Paxell.” Pause. “First on this makeshift agenda- and this will be in print on your desks tomorrow morning- is the immediate resignation of our CEO William Porter based on personal reasons. It will be devastating to see him go but I have accepted the resignation and he’s already gone.”

A hushed whisper travelled through the room. Yvonne and Michael just exchanged glances. When silence fell once more, Paxell continued. “Now I have come to announce the following shifts in power. The incoming CEO, effective next Monday is Karen Benedict. Beverly Court will take her position as Administrative Executive and the SECD will be introduced on Monday.” When the applause for the two promoted members of staff died down, he asked, “Any questions?”

A tradition at Paxell was that a newcomer’s profile would be summarized to minimize the unfamiliarity. What got left out was a name and the most recent place of employment.

Just as Yvonne was wondering about it, a hand went up: an executive from the Finance Department. “Profile?”

Richard Paxell consulted his notes. “Aged thirty-one, has several certificates and degrees in economics and technology development-” that caused a few wary expressions “-active member of the social community. Drives a…” he glanced at the paper and stated in a surprised tone, “A 2010 Peugeot!”

That couldn’t be right. A few of the men laughed.

Paxell continued with the good-natured in absentia break-in routine. “He’s single.” He wiggled his brows at Yvonne, who was the youngest single lady.

Michael almost choked on his water.

Completely ignoring that Paxell finished with a flourish. “He comes from Massachusetts and went to school down in South Carolina.”

Over drinks that evening, Yvonne and Michael joked with a few of the other young executives about their new immediate superior.

“He’ll be a youthful ecos-tech geek,” whined thirty year old Jean-Luc, “and competition for your fair heart.” He spoke to Yvonne who only rolled her eyes.

She said speculatively, “Mike, maybe you know him. What if he was at SCU?”

“Then he’s probably very butch, all sporty and either Old New England type or big plantation rich. Or he’s-”

“Never mind,” Yvonne laughed. “Whatever this guy has in store I just hope he’s okay. I’m going to miss Bustle and Chaos,” she continued wistfully, referring to Beverly Court.

“Yeah, whoever Ecos-Geek is,” Michael concurred, “he better be nice to the Two,” referring to himself and Yvonne.

She grinned and raised a glass to that. “To the Terrible Two.”

Mike went on, “If you think you’re a bad ass…”

“Let’s see if you can take on two,” one of their companions finished.

This was at the same time another said, “You’ll see the damage two can do.”

Their joint nickname always incited a lot of banter.

Back when the two of them had joined Paxell Holdings, their boss had given them a chance to handle a very important client. The job had been done well and the client had been so pleased that he’d called Richard Paxell on the phone.

The client had said they were ‘terribly good’ and Paxell had wryly responded, “Well, I’ll agree with the terrible bit.”

After the call was over, he’d turned to his PA and said, “Go and call in the Terrible Two.” The name had stuck.

No one could deny that Yvonne and Michael were a great team. Yvonne was specifically tasked with managing the international IT accounts. Her area of expertise was money and international corporate law. Mike did all the programming, designing to a client’s specifications, when she acknowledged payment from them. She was twenty-seven and Mike was turning twenty-eight in four weeks’ time but as young as they were, the Computer Department never had a reason to complain or doubt their efficacy.

They always met their targets and delivered excellent customer service. They’d worked well with little deterrence from Court who, despite her nickname got things planned and done with time to spare. With the three of them running the finances, programming and design of systems, nothing had ever gone wrong.

As Bev had been content to represent the Computer department at many meetings and for administrative discussions, the two were unsure whether the next SECD would do the same or not. She had given them their head and seldom argued.

Friday came and the Two promptly forgot about the pending shift in their department’s balance of power. Yvonne’s boyfriend, an accountant for a prominent law firm, was out of town and so the city of Detroit was subject to the blaze of the Two.

Michael got so drunk on Saturday night he crashed at his best friend’s place.

Yvonne woke him up at ten the following morning, to head to the gym for a workout session.

“Can’t we just’ swim in the pool?” he grumbled.

She laughed. “You’d probably drown.” With a light chop to the arm, she urged him to get up. “Come on, Mike.”

After the gym, she dropped him off at his smart suite on the top floor of a high rise complex in town. Then she drove home to the quiet suburb of Greenwood, where her three bed roomed house was undoubtedly the smallest property, despite the fact that it had a swimming pool, squash court, spacious living room, den, enormous kitchen and cosy library. The elegant dining room and two-car garage were not exactly humble beginnings by average citizen standards, but her parents called it a ‘quaint start’ and her friends had come up with a nickname that rhymed with that.

She went to bed early, that night, after receiving the phone call she’d been waiting for from her boyfriend.

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