Jane wasn’t having much luck with her alarm. Yesterday it was too upbeat, today it was the radio man boasting two hours on nonstop music. His voice was too excitable for this time of the morning, Jane thought. He sounded like he had short, spiky brown hair, kept himself active, and enjoyed wearing t-shirts with obscure logos on them. He sounded 5’8”.
By the time Jane had stumbled out of bed the two hours of nonstop music had started to play, starting with a song Jane thought she’d heard before but didn’t know. She was thirsty. And quite hungry. Last night had found her a lot sooner than she thought it would and she had fallen asleep at eight o’clock, sleeping for eleven hours and waking up to a late alarm she’d set as a treat to herself.
She began her usual morning routine, shaking off the tired cobwebs of the night before and trying to get used to her obnoxious new cast. A friend at the office had asked her yesterday if he could sign it; but after thinking about it for a few seconds Jane decided she wasn’t fifteen and said no.
The usual morning routine, which always started with breakfast, quickly smudged itself into the space between waking up and getting to work, and before she realised it, Jane found herself standing in her office lobby, utterly unprepared for the day ahead.
“Well, you look fabulous,” the sarcastic voice of Anette broke through Jane’s subconscious. It was spoken louder than intended, and both ladies looked around, moderately embarrassed.
“That bad, huh?”
“That depends. How secure is my job here?”
“Not that secure.”
“Then you look great.”
Jane and Anette continued walking and talking until they reached the elevator, where they went through the motions of their usual parting. Jane stepped into the elevator, and Anette left to go about her day’s business.
This morning it was harder to focus as the elevator went up to the fifteenth floor, and Jane needed the whole journey as preparation. It was a good thing she took that extra time too, because when the doors opened, Tom, her assistant, was there to meet her.
Tom was a lifesaver for Jane. How she managed to secure a job as an assistant all those years ago she didn’t know. Clearly, running a company was her forte rather than organising the day–to–day. She held people who worked in secretarial roles in great esteem.
“Mr. Jacobs is here to see you.” Tom walked quickly beside Jane as she went to her office.
“What? Why?” As she stopped suddenly, it took Tom a second to realise, and he had to turn around quickly and take a few steps back before he was standing next to her again.
“I’m afraid we had no choice. We told him you weren’t in, and he insisted he’d wait. He’s somewhat perturbed, shall we say, that you blew him off two nights ago without giving him a reason.”
“Does he know about the accident?”
“I’m not sure. But he wants to know why you left the university before your meeting.”
“Ah. So I have to explain his sexist remarks to him and how we don’t tolerate that sort of thing.”
“If that’s how you want to approach it. I’d just say something came up.”
“No, because then he’d want to meet again. Ok, I’ll handle it. Where is he now?”
“What? No. I’m going back towards the elevator to get a drink of water. Take him to Conference Room B, and I’ll meet him in ten minutes. I need to get a few things organised first.”
Jane turned around and walked in the direction of the water cooler. She should have realised this would probably happen. Mr. Jacobs – that “some guy” from the university – wouldn’t have liked the way she handled the situation and, to be honest, she probably could have handled it better. But this was an issue that her company took very seriously, and he needed to understand that. This was not something she would back down from. Perhaps, in the future, they could discuss the possibility of funding. But for now she would have to explain the situation calmly and professionally. It was company policy. Everyone who sought investment from her company knew it was company policy.
Jane’s phone buzzed. It was a text from Anette.
‘I almost forgot. I’ve scheduled your doctor’s appointment for two weeks’ time.’
Jane’s second lifesaver. It wasn’t Anette’s job to schedule her doctor’s appointment. No, this was Anette being a friend. A friend who knew perfectly well Jane would forget to schedule that appointment.
She put her phone back and breathed. Alright, time to head to the office, get organised, and have this talk. She had other things she needed to do today.
“Hello, Mr. Jacobs. I am aware you want to speak with me.”
“Ah, yes. Ms. Westen, I want to know why you left before our meeting two days ago? There was no warning or reason given and I must confess I found it rather rude.”
“I understand. And for not letting you know, I apologise. But I…”
“So why did you leave? A business woman of your stature should not make it a habit of standing up the men she seeks to do business with.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“It’s just that I understand being a woman in the male-dominated profession is challenging at best, but you have youth and beauty on your side. Do not squander that. They can be powerful…”
“MR. Jacobs,” Jane’s composure and force of presence silenced him immediately. “You came here looking for an answer to your question so let me provide you with one. But firstly, a question of my own. Would you treat me any differently if I was a young man in this role?
“Why yes of course. It would be completely…” He suddenly realised his mistake, and a clue began to develop in him mind as to why she had left that day. “Ms. Westen, let me explain my reasoning.”
“No please, let me explain mine. Two nights ago, at a professional work function, while giving an incredibly prestigious work-related award, you called your colleague, who happens to be a Nobel-Prize winning scientist, beautiful and smart.”
“Please let me finish. I have no issue with the recognition of her looks as she is a very beautiful woman indeed. However, I must point out a few things where I did have issue. Firstly, this event was not a beauty pageant and her looks were not what got her to where she was. This was a work function and her mind was on celebration that day. Secondly, I’ll phrase this as a question: would you have remarked on your colleague’s beauty had she been a man?”
“I thought as such. Mr. Jacobs, we here operate a strict gender equality program. All men and women are paid the same for the same jobs. We actively seek to hire diversely, be that by religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. We work hard to provide equal opportunities for all our employees.
“We are a leader in this area and we accept that most of the people we do business with are not like us in this sense. However, our policies are written to ensure that those who seek funding from us know they will only acquire funding if they respect these programs and adhere to a certain level of gender and social equality themselves. You have proved, through your speech two days ago and through our conversation today, that you do not respect and adhere to these issues.
“Perhaps in the future this will change. I admire your work and would like to support your research. But for now, I’m afraid we are unable to do business together. Have a lovely day. If you have any more questions I’m sure Tom, my assistant, can see to them.”
And with that, Jane left the conference room and got on with the rest of her day.
“I am Frankenstein’s monster,” Matt proclaimed to a slightly bewildered Kyle who had just walked through the front door. Kyle had been Matt’s best friend for years. They met when Matt’s search for a literary agent began and Kyle’s career as a literary agent was just taking off. They had similar ideas, and the business friendship just sort of developed.
“I beg your pardon.” Kyle asked, quite disconcerted.
“I am Frankenstein’s monster.”
“Again, I beg your pardon.”
“I’ve been thinking. As a writer, I have a lot of characters that I write about, and they all have different professions. So I need to learn about all these professions and hobbies, otherwise I won’t write good characters.”
“Ok. How does that make you Frankenstein’s monster?”
“Well, he was made out of bits and bobs from lots of different people. I need to know bits and bobs about a lot of different hobbies and professions. I’m the literary version of Frankenstein’s monster.”
“Surely Frankenstein’s monster is the literary version of Frankenstein’s monster?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Maybe this brain injury is worse than we thought. When’s your next visit to the doctor?”
“Two weeks. And it’s not the brain injury. I just realised it and thought it was funny.”
“Oh, also, I have a question. So I have to make a doctors appointment, right?”
“Well, is it doctors appointment, or doctor’s appointment?”
“Does the phrase ‘doctors appointment’ have an apostrophe or not before the ‘s’ in ‘doctors’?”
“Ok, look. I wrote it down.” Matt handed his laptop to Kyle, opened to a word document with the words ‘doctors appointment or doctor’s appointment’.
“Oh, that’s what you meant. How would I have gotten that from you saying ‘doctors appointment or doctor’s appointment’?”
“Well… They sound different.”
“No, they don’t. Surely it’d be ‘doctors appointment’, because it’s not possessive of the doctor.”
“That’s what I thought. But Word is being stupid and saying it’s wrong.”
“And Word’s word is law.”
“Word’s word. No, it’s not, but I wanted to make sure.”
“Hang on, what made you think of that?
“… I don’t remember.”
“Ok. Well…” and the conversation continued in pretty much this fashion for the next half hour. Both Matt and Kyle were very much equals in this partnership/friendship. Both knew that neither of them would be anyone without the other. Kyle made Matt famous, and likewise Matt did the same for Kyle.
Kyle was also far less worried than Matt was about being dropped by the publisher. He had already spoken to several other publishing houses who were interested in putting out Matt’s next book.
Kyle, who was only partially listening at this point as Matt rambled on about whatever random thing had caught his mind now, made himself at home. He grabbed two beers from the fridge before realising that Matt probably shouldn’t be drinking and putting one back, took off his shoes, and crashed on the adjacent sofa to Matt’s. This wasn’t a business call. This was a friend checking in to see how everything was going. And as Matt was still recovering from the head injury provided to him by the accident and couldn’t concentrate too much, Kyle and he spent most of their afternoon wasting time away playing video games and chatting loosely about anything under the sun.
Kyle was Matt’s primary friend. Matt had decided long ago that the best way to organise and maintain social encounters was to group individuals into categories. The first category was called Primary Friends. This included the least number of people and currently only held Kyle. The second category was Secondary Friends. This included old friends and people you bond with when you meet, but don’t get to know on a deeper level. The third category was Tertiary Friends. These were acquaintances, individuals you mingle with at parties, hands you shook at press events. The final category was simply called Everyone Else.
This was how Matt survived social encounters and how he made sense of the world. He was somewhat awkward when it came to social encounters, and so he found this a good system for them. He wasn’t bad at them, he just never really understood them. Sure, he knew the correct procedures when it came to interacting with people, and he had no difficulty in performing said procedures; he simply felt a little awkward when doing it. And it was the small talk, the interactions with strangers, that he felt particularly awkward about.
This was particularly prevalent two weeks after the incident (for the collision with the bus and the mystery woman was simply referred to by Matt as “the incident”) when he had one of those strange meetings at the entrance to the hospital. It had been two weeks since the accident, and Matt was due for his checkup at the hospital to make sure he had no long-term head injuries. He was on his way there, in fact he had just stepped up onto the pavement and was only several feet from the hospital door, when he saw in the reflection of the glass door a person behind him trying to beat him to the door. Because of this, they shared a panicked should-I-reach-for-the-door-or-should-you moment, followed by the uncertainty of whether or not to hold the door open.
Matt, who had been brought up with the understanding that it was chivalrous to hold the door open for a woman (even though he felt that chivalry was a gender-neutral term, and had nothing to do with opening doors at all), had reached for the door.
The trouble was that this person, whose blurry reflection in the window turned out to be that of a rather beautiful woman (something that further exacerbated the situation, as Matt never really knew what to say when talking to beautiful women), got to the door first and held it open for Matt.
Not five feet after this first door was a second, and this time Matt all but lunged at it in order to get to it first. He pulled it open and looked back, but she was still holding the first door open for someone else, and Matt found himself waiting there rather awkwardly for a few seconds, looking sheepishly at the ground.
When she did eventually pass by, she thanked him in one of those voices Matt felt he knew but couldn’t place. It sounded responsible.
He found the whole thing rather humorous – though only after the fact – and thought about it the whole journey home. The rest of that hospital visit was somewhat mundane in comparison.
He was fine, the doctors had said. One of them had mentioned that he liked Matt’s novels. That was it, really. Unfortunately for Matt, this meant he had to get back to work properly now. He had been taking things slow for his health, he said, but now he could no longer use that excuse. He was simply being lazy and had to get back to life. He wanted to write a western: one of those ones where the heroic outlaw battles the corrupt sheriff and rescues the town. Matt had never written a western before, and so wanted to give it a try. The main character’s name would be Rex.
“Hello there, Gorgeous.”
“Hi, Anette.” Jane responded as she entered the room.
“You ready for an easy day of work today?”
“Excuse me? I never have an easy day of work.”
“Sure you do. You don’t even have to work the full day today. And no meetings. I wish I had your job.”
“What do you mean ‘I don’t work the full day’?”
“You have that doctor’s appointment.”
“What doctor’s appointment?”
“I knew you’d forget. Remember when I booked you that doctor’s appointment? The one where you find out if you get that cast off. I bet it’s really gross now. Well, the appointment is at two. Don’t worry, I’ve checked with Tom and we’ve made sure you have nothing on.”
“Oh. Well, alright then.”
Both women continued talking and walking toward the elevator and the rest of their day. They continued to chat until they reached it, and then the see-you-soon routine they had perfected over their daily walks together commenced before Jane stepped into the elevator and the doors closed.
When Jane stepped out of that elevator on the other side, she was a different person. She was the epitome of a workaholic and she knew it. It was what she did best. It’s also why she knew how important Anette and Tom were to her. Running a company like this meant having a great team behind you, and she had worked hard to develop that team.
Anette was Jane’s second-in-command, more or less. She ran HR and acted as the glue that kept the various parts of the company connected. With the two of them at the helm, it meant the company kept progressing and operating smoothly at the same time.
It also meant, occasionally, Anette reminding Jane about non-work related activities, like going to the doctor’s two weeks after an accident to see if she still needed the cast. And it meant that Anette knew Jane’s schedule, which meant she knew when Jane had a full workload and when she had a simpler day.
Today was one of the latter, which saw Jane sitting at her desk for most of the morning, working her way through the ever-growing pile of documents on her desk there. The majority were from people applying for funding. The company was set up so that most of the applicants were sorted out down the line, either being rejected or accepted for various reasons. But the bigger requests, the more significant areas of investment, those would make their way through the system and come to Jane for final approval. Not a great amount of applications made it this far, but the ones that did required a serious amount of thought. Before Jane knew it, 1:45pm appeared and she found herself late.
She would have to grab lunch on the way. It was only a seven-minute taxi ride; she should still make it. She packed up what she needed to finish working from home after the appointment and headed downstairs, grabbing a sandwich from one of the vendors as she made her way outside. There were always taxis waiting there, and she jumped in the first one she saw.
Traffic was worse than she expected, and by the time she arrived she was a few minutes late. Jane hated being late. She jumped out and began walking quickly towards the doors. There was a man walking obnoxiously slow in front of her, so she had to move around him. It seemed to make no difference though, as she ended up holding the door open for both him and another lady who was right behind and walking with crutches.
It was ok though; she registered with the front desk and was called in a moment later. The doctors saw her, ran some tests and said everything was fine. She went back into the waiting room and sat down. The slow man was being led through another set of doors.
She realised as she sat there, waiting for the nurse to call her back in and remove the cast, that she probably seemed quite rude to that man. She didn’t even acknowledge him aside from a muffled “Thank you,” as he held open the second door they had to walk through. She didn’t even look up at him. That was rude, she thought.
Now she felt bad.
Matt and Jane both lived in the same city, about twenty minutes by foot or ten minutes by car from each other. Depending on the traffic, they also lived twelve minutes by public transport away from each other, but that’s neither here nor there.
They were just two people in an overly-populated city, going about their lives, completely oblivious to the lives of everyone else around them. They lived their own lives and had never really crossed paths aside from that fateful day.
It’s surprising really. Their lives should have crossed paths several times, but given their own rigidity of schedule and habit so far they hadn’t.
When she could, which was more often than she thought, Jane would go to the gym. It was across the other side of town, but Jane liked it because it was the only gym nearby with a decent swimming pool. She would often run there via a rather convoluted route to ensure she ran for several miles, then swim for an indeterminate length of time before walking back the shortest way.
She never ran on the treadmills at the gym. She didn’t understand it. She couldn’t wrap her head around why people would use the treadmills when there was a perfectly good planet outside that they could run around. She would sometimes use the elliptical machines and sometimes the weights, but mostly she swam when she was at the gym. Swimming was something she couldn’t do outside, at least not anywhere nearby.
No, Jane only went running outside and swimming in the gym. She had begun running when she was young, competing in various athletic events throughout her childhood. She gave it up during her early teenage years because of pressure from school and society to be more ‘normal’. Apparently, girls aren’t supposed to be athletic. She would get weird looks from the boys in her school when she would beat them in the sprints and the long-distance running. All the other girls were stopping sports and focusing on makeup and boys and fashion.
Jane hated those years. Luckily, she had a teacher when she was fifteen who changed her mind, who told her it was ok to be a runner, to be athletic, to be better at sports than the boys in her school. Her teacher told her it was ok to be herself and if that meant running, then she should run.
So Jane began running again. She always wondered how good she would be if she’d never quit, and a part of her always regretted giving it up. But by this point her focus was equally on her mind as it was on her fitness, and her teacher’s advice also translated into her success in academics. She quickly became the driven person who would go on to run one of the most powerful and influential companies in the country, providing millions in funding for programs that would tackle the very issues Jane struggled with as a child.
Matt was unlike Jane in many ways, including his approach to the treadmill. For Matt, the treadmill was a lifesaver, quite literally. Matt’s mind was far too unpredictable to be let free out in public, and running was a way to let Matt’s mind run free. He often found when he was walking he would forget where he was and become lost in his own mind. He would end up in places without ever knowing how he got there. If he were to ever add the speed of running into the equation, it would almost certainly have disastrous effects.
That’s why Matt went to the gym. He almost exclusively ran, though he would try in every workout to get some upper body exercise involved. His gym was only down the street from his house, and he would happily walk there most days, run on the treadmill, then walk back. It was on the treadmill that many of his ideas for novels were formed and where plot lines were formed developed. He enjoyed playing god to the worlds created in his mind.
If you knew Matt, or if you followed his schedule, you could figure out when he was writing and when he wasn’t. The treadmill never helped Matt when he wasn’t writing. It wasn’t a way to cure writer’s block like it was for some. When that was the case, he would go for walks, usually quite long walks. But when he was writing, when he was really into the swing of writing, he would go running at least once a day. He had to. It was his way of coping. So if you saw him out for a walk in the park, you could almost always assume he was stuck on something. But if he was heading to the gym, walking at a rather brisk pace and dressed in gym attire, it would mean he was writing and needed the release that only the treadmill could offer him.
He had been told several times by Kyle that he should just buy his own treadmill, but Matt refused. He believed, rather half-heartedly, that the walk to the gym and back counted as social time, a way to avoid staying indoors all day, every day.
It was here at this gym that both Matt and Jane should have met on many occasions. It was one of the only places both Matt and Jane frequented. But given their differences regarding the treadmill and their different schedules (Matt didn’t have a nine to five job and would prefer to visit the gym during the morning hours) neither ran into each other.
There was one time when it came close. Jane actually ran past Matt as he headed back from the gym in the evening (he had a meeting to attend in the morning). But she was on the other side of the street and he had his music in, looking down at the floor, so it didn’t really count.