Georgie and Tyler are wonderful characters and the way their relationship changes from purely professional to a romance is lovely, with good pacing. This is a clever book on many levels, and it really kept me on my toes, intellectually speaking. It was both challenging and heart-warming in equal measures, and I absolutely loved it.Lesbian Reading Room
Nothing is quiet so refreshing as a something completely different to the norm. Don’t Let Go is a traditional romance, set in the corporate world and with a twist of a corporate intrigue to add to the action. What makes it unusual is that the main character in both the romance and the corporation is a Vet who has suffered a traumatic brain injury and is suffering from a range of seemingly catastrophic after effects.
I’ve never been good with change. Honestly, who has? History is rife with all our misguided attempts to change the inevitable.
It was all she could think of, trying desperately to convince herself to keep moving. Tyler climbed out of her beat-up Chevy and retrieved her briefcase and winter coat from the backseat. She inspected the ski jacket in the shivering damp of the freshly shoveled parking lot. Unwilling to risk looking anything less than professional, she tossed it back in the car. This was her last scheduled interview. If it went well, the job would be hers. Not that this was a great job but she was desperate and already having spent more than a year unemployed, she was determined.
When HR had called to book what they described as nothing more than a rubber stamp meeting, they instructed her to give her name to the parking lot attendant, who would have a parking pass ready. He had given her the pass, directing her to a visitor’s spot, along with the obligatory visitor’s badge she would need to access anyplace beyond the lobby. Attached to the visitor’s pass was a Post-it note. “Seventh floor, ask for Georgie.” Freezing cold and shivering painfully, Tyler stopped to take a careful look around, thinking the parking lot might tell her something about the company, at least something that hadn’t been written and posted by DME’s public relations people. Not that it would make a difference now, but it would be nice to know her desperate attempt to secure a crappy job wasn’t all bad.
While DME was no longer considered upstate New York’s landmark boat builder, it had evolved into a leading-edge marine engineering firm. That had to count for something. Taking in the cars parked closest to the entry told her something else. Either the executives at DME all drove crappy winter beaters, or the reserved spots were not for them. Did they lease out their parking? After her first visit to DME, she had only researched the businesses residing in the DiNamico Building. It looked like DME occupied all the floors above the third. There were no tenants listed for eight or the penthouse, and she assumed those floors, like so many in the neighborhood, were probably converted to lofts long ago. All the lower levels were leased out to long-term tenants, except for a meeting room on the lobby level. Both of her previous interviews had been held there.
Boarding an empty elevator she pressed seven but the button didn’t light up. Impatient, she pressed it several more times before trying other buttons, with the same result. Beside the elevator panel, a small placard read Visitors: Please see Security on the Lobby Level for a Visitor’s Badge. Ready to do just that, Tyler stopped herself, unclasping her badge from her suit jacket. There was no key card slot or input panel, but feeling like this was some sort of test, she looked around carefully. On the opposite side of the doors, the smooth stainless-steel panel was without markings, except for a fist-size circle delineated by a dozen blue LEDs. Tyler smiled. You can’t fool a PhD, she offered under her breath, before swiping the visitor’s badge past the circle. Sure enough, the seventh-floor call button lit up and the elevator began to move. Maybe this Personal Assistant job wouldn’t completely suck? HR had warned her that she would meet the CIO, or Chief Innovation Officer. If they meshed, the job would be hers. “Just watch me mesh!” Tyler growled her warning, her deeply ingrained competitive streak rearing to life.
When the elevator doors opened, she charged out only to halt abruptly. Directly in front of her, marred only by a single set of glass doors, was an unobstructed view of Lake Erie. Forcing her eyes from the early December grays and blues outside, she took in her surroundings carefully. The small lobby around the elevator area was completely glassed in. Two reception counters were located on each side, their dark wood stain a stark contrast to the white and gray marble floors. Each was positioned in such a way as to enhance the view. And, while one counter was heavily laden with envelopes and packages in various liveries of overnight couriers, the other was attended by a tall and very attractive African American woman. Tyler waited patiently while the woman spoke amiably to a caller over her wireless headset, her long slender fingers skimming expertly over her keyboard. Her voice had a singsong quality to it, leading Tyler to contemplate her lineage. She wasn’t good with accents, especially those tempered by the American melting pot.
When the woman turned her attention to Tyler, a warm smile melted the last of the anxiety she had been carrying. “You must be Tyler Marsh? I see you conquered the gauntlet!”
“Sorry?” The woman’s smile was so bright and enthusiastic, Tyler couldn’t help but acquiesce to her charm. “Yes, I’m Tyler. Oh, you mean the elevator?”
Reaching across the reception desk, the woman offered her hand. “Name’s Zoe. I’m Marnie’s PA, and as you can see, sometimes I fill in on reception.” At the look on Tyler’s face, she waved an excited hand. “No worries, love. Working for Georgie means never having to say welcome to DME!”
Tyler let that fact sink in. Bad enough that she had to lie about her education, and dumb down her CV to even get in the door. Having to do double duty as a receptionist would have felt like the final insult to her academic career. While she was immensely relieved, she didn’t want to insult the first friendly face she encountered. Accepting the outstretched hand, she gave it a firm shake accompanied by a sincere smile. “Thanks, Zoe. I must admit I’m a little overwhelmed today, and I don’t know who Marnie is or Georgie for that matter.”
Zoe walked around the reception counter, slipping her arm through Tyler’s in a colluding fashion. “Come on. I’ve been ordered to introduce you to Georgie. She’s our Chief of Innovation, Georgina DiNamico. Once you two have a nice chat, I’ll take you round to see Marnie Pulaski. She’s our COO and Georgie’s sister.”
Tyler simply nodded, taking everything in as Zoe steered her toward the glass doors and the breathtaking view of the lake. When Zoe waved her hand over a blue light embedded in the glass door, it and its partner unlocked simultaneously and whooshed aside. “How did you do that?”
Holding out an empty hand, palm up, Zoe explained simply, “Embedded technology. Georgie came up with it, but don’t ask her too much or she’ll chat your ear off.”
Tyler gave her a perfunctory smile, but didn’t ask more. She had no idea what the woman was talking about, but decided to wait, observe and learn what she could. Eyes fixed on the spectacular view, she was surprised when Zoe pulled her back by her arm just in time to prevent her from tumbling down the stairs in front of her. She had completely missed that, the stairs, the room, and she now understood that the office had been designed so the view of the lake took precedence over everything. She thanked Zoe for preventing her fall. Following her down the stairs, they made their way to a grouping of white leather couches around a large square coffee table. While the sofas looked comfortable, the grouping was stark and functional and suited the space. She had to wonder if that was a reflection of her new boss, or should the ambience be credited to some unnamed office designer?
“How about you have a seat and relax,” Zoe instructed warmly. “Listen, I know you interviewed with Susan. Did she talk much about Georgie’s…challenges?”
“I…challenges, I’m not sure what you mean.”
Sitting on the sofa, and patting the place beside her, Zoe was the picture of the perfect young professional in a slim-fitting dress and a cute little jacket. Her smile bordered on beguiling as she explained, “Georgie’s my aunt and a veteran, a royal pain in my backside too but she’s come a long way. All I can suggest is be patient when she’s speaking. Try to hear her out. She may take the long way about but she gets there. Now,” she said, and stood, her smile and charm irresistible, “Georgie’s asked me to bring tea in. Do you have a preference, or will you drink that weak granny tea she’s always after?”
Tyler considered her options for a moment, knowing that in an interview, asking for what you want as opposed to simply accepting what was offered was often a test of what you would and wouldn’t do in your job. “Actually, I would prefer coffee,” she said, without second-guessing herself, “please.”
“Sorry, Tyler. How about some juice for now? Once you head over to Mrs. P’s office, I can bring in the java but not here. No coffee in Georgie’s office.” As explanation, she offered, “It’s just her thing!”
“Oh, okay…then I guess I’m having tea.” Tyler smiled, then turned to take in the rest of the office. One wall seemed to be constructed solely of opaque glass partitions that closely matched the marble floors. The wall opposite was constructed of stone and featured not only a fireplace, but the largest flat-screen TV she had ever seen. A remote and wireless keyboard lay on the coffee table, carefully aligned and offset to suit a user who would sit at one end of the couch, directly across from the flat-screen. If she were asked to analyze the room as a characterization of its owner, she would speculate minimalist, dissociative, OCD, and…
The opaque glass panels suddenly cleared revealing a more traditional office. Moments later, several of the panels whooshed aside. The sole occupant of the adjoining office, a striking, dark-haired woman, seemed to hesitate before finally making her way to Tyler. “This used to be…Grandfather’s office.”
“It’s breathtaking. I was so entranced coming in, I almost tripped down the stairs.”
That remark made the woman smile. “Don’t tell…I have too…more than once.”
That comment went a long way to helping her relax, that and seeing a certain kindness in her eyes. When Zoe had said the woman was her aunt she had pictured an elderly matriarch, not the unassuming woman before her. It was hard to pinpoint her age, maybe forty, she figured. It was hard to actually catalog her physicality. She was impeccably dressed in a conservatively cut suit. She immediately noticed the woman’s confidence. She walked with a military bearing but without the type of swagger she had come to think of as a guy in uniform thing.
“May I ask, when did your grandfather buy this building?” With its distinct art deco feel of the 1930s, certainly her grandfather could not have been old enough to be the original occupant.
“Grandfather bought…under construction. He…he was fourth, owner of…blueprints, permits…hole in ground. He…modified plan. This,” she pointed to the stairs, the gallery and the two-story ceiling, “was two floors.”
Tyler took her time to examine the features she pointed out, and to adjust to halting, almost disjointed speech which was completely at odds with the woman’s appearance. For an older woman, she was very attractive, her athleticism lending an air of quiet strength to her countenance. Her short-cropped hair was thick and black, except for a bold stripe of pure white high on the right temple. And her light olive complexion held the kind of radiance that came with summers spent in the sun. She was dressed impeccably, in a charcoal suit that Tyler would bet was custom made. Still, her cheap blue cotton shirt, although starched, lacked any adornment. The pressed cuffs that jutted from her jacket sleeves were fastened with plastic buttons instead of the expected mother of pearl and the edges seemed close to frayed. The woman was a study in contrasts.
Focusing on the details being mentioned she followed the woman around the executive office. Like the stunning art deco exterior of the nine-story brownstone, the interior was flawlessly finished and maintained. It was obvious the office had been designed to impress. Stunning views abounded regardless of where you stood or looked. The building had been designed with a strange bullnose feature something similar to a flat iron, but more bow shaped and protruding from its long rectangular form. Standing in the CIO’s office, Tyler saw why. The unusual bow shape provided stunning views both north and south of the Erie shoreline. It had been designed to impress, and it succeeded.
“We replaced…all glazing…twenty years ago.” Pointing to the office partition walls, she added, “SmartGlass…programmable…new. Old panels, glass and oak…hard to clean. Floors. Six, seven…senior staff. All visitors…see…” She failed to complete the thought, for some reason preferring instead to simply wave her hand as evidence of her sentiment.
“Very impressive,” Tyler offered noncommittally, wondering again at the woman’s difficulty with speech. She thought the decor was overkill. As a business major, she had been taught that the point of any head office would be to highlight the products, not their environment. But who was she to say? DME, in one guise or another, had been a Buffalo keystone enterprise for more than seventy years. Not wanting to prejudge her host and determined to make a good impression, she offered her hand. “I’m Tyler Marsh, pleased to meet you.”
The woman, who she had to assume was Georgina DiNamico, stared at her without what would appear to be simple comprehension. Finally, seeming to catch on, she accepted Tyler’s outstretched hand and shook it amiably. “Georgina DiNamico…Junior. Georgie.”
“Should I address you as Georgie? If it bothers you, I’m happy to address you in any appropriate form.”
That seemed to confuse the woman even more. “Oh…Georgie. Everyone…Henry too…Georgie.”
“Who’s Henry?” Tyler asked, before she could catch yourself.
“My uncle, Dad’s brother…partner…best friend,” she explained, waving her guest to the sitting area.
Tyler nodded, carefully taking her place on the love seat beside the couch she assumed Georgie usually occupied. Sure enough, she sat in the place directly across from the flat-screen, where the remote and wireless keyboard were arranged. Without preamble, or explanation, she began to type in several commands on the keyboard. She continued without comment even when Zoe returned with a tray loaded with a mismatched tea set, two bowls of freshly diced melons and heavy matching coffee mugs. Tyler examined the mugs without actually picking one up. Zoe, seeming nonplussed by Georgie’s behavior, explained while pouring tea, “Henry Phipps, my granddad, and Uncle Danny served together in the Red Tails.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what that is. The Red Tails?” she asked.
“Oh sorry, it’s their squadron from when they were in the air force. It started as the Tuskegee Airmen, you know, the all black flyers who started out in the Second World War. They distinguished their Mustangs, their airplanes, from all the rest by painting the entire tail section red: Hence Red Tails!
“Anyway, my granddad and Georgie’s dad served together. After the air force was organized properly, and integration was in full effect, they started filling slots in their highly decorated unit with the best men for the job, regardless of color. Uncle Danny was one of the lucky sods to join Granddad’s squadron. They served together up in Newfoundland and Vietnam before coming back here and taking over the company.” Zoe, chatting amiably, continued as if it were the most natural thing to carry on a conversation around, but not with, Georgie DiNamico. “My granddad met my grandmom up in Newfee. The old boys used to ship us kids off there every summer. Henry said it was to run the devil out of me. Never had more fun! Have you been to Newfoundland?”
Tyler shook her head. “I’ve never been out of the country, other than a conference I went to in Toronto. Does that count?”
Zoe laughed with an easiness that Tyler could appreciate. “Newfee was still part of Britain back then.”
“Sort of like a fourteenth colony?”
The vivacious grinning young woman laughed appreciatively at that, turning without comment and heading back up the stairs to the reception counter.
Not sure what to expect next, Tyler turned back to her noncommunicative and hopefully soon-to-be boss. “Should I pour?”
Once Tyler had filled the two mugs and doctored her own cup, she turned her attention to the large porcelain mug. On it was an illustration of an aircraft with the entire tail painted red and the nose in a checkerboard pattern. Along the bottom of the illustration, the caption read, P-51 Mustang, 332 Fighter Group, United States Army Air Corps.
“You lied on your résumé.”
Tyler almost choked on her tea. It was everything she could do to keep from spewing it across the coffee table and at her interviewer. “Sorry?”
The woman she had hoped would be her new boss looked at her without judgment, without any emotion at all. She then turned her attention back to the large flat-screen, entering a few more keystrokes, “You signed…NDA. Background check…Understand?”
“No, I mean, yes.” She couldn’t help the frustration. “I mean…yes, I know I signed the nondisclosure agreement and yes I lied on my résumé. If that means I don’t get the job, then fine,” she offered, upset. “Can I at least explain the situation?”
Her interviewer seemed surprised by the question as she signaled with her hand for Tyler to continue. “No judgment…Dr Marsh. I do not…why hide…accomplishments?”
Tyler pushed out an angry breath, barely able to remain calm. “That’s easy for you to say. You have a job. I don’t expect someone like you to understand how tough the market is out there. I took my academic achievements off my résumé after being told, time after time, that I was too qualified for the job!”
“Which job?” DiNamico asked, as if someone in her own company had given her that advice.
“It wasn’t any specific job. It was just every job I was applying for.” Thinking the interview was over and frustrated beyond belief, Tyler got to her feet and turned for the stairs, adding, “I don’t need this—”
Georgie stood too, giving Tyler a curious look, “Dr Marsh? I do not…understand. Do not want…the job? No?” She too was clearly upset. “I…not interesting. You may…research…lots of time…work on…stuff!”
One hand already on the antique circular staircase, she said bitterly, “Stuff?”
That seemed to confuse Georgie DiNamico even more. “My sister…she told you? This…this job…I need…SIT!” she ordered in a tone both autocratic and frustrated.
Tyler turned at the command, surprised to realize the woman was as frustrated as she was. She watched as DiNamico took a long moment to order her thoughts. Rubbing at her temple before closing her eyes and announcing, “Dr Marsh, I am an engineer…A good engineer. Everything else…really…” She stopped abruptly, flopping back onto the couch. “I thought Marnie…explained my…me…”
Tyler took a deep breath, forcing herself to relax a little. Whatever Georgie DiNamico’s problem was, it wasn’t about her. “You don’t have to call me Doctor. Yes, I have a PhD but it hardly applies here.” Walking back to the sitting area, she offered more calmly, “I think we got off on the wrong foot.” Then she asked boldly, “Are you usually this forthcoming?”
“I cannot help…I have…issues…social graces…no good. Not on purpose.” She closed her eyes again for a moment. “Marnie wanted to hire you for…” As if sensing Tyler’s movement, she waited patiently as Tyler resumed her seat. “Your job. Your job…to keep me out of trouble or…explain things,” she confessed, almost under her breath, adding, “Doctor…I call you, what?”
“That depends, how do you want to be addressed?”
Confused, she answered, “Now just Georgie.”
The now indicated something had changed, something significant, Tyler guessed.
“This,” she said, waving an arm at the room and the view, “was my grandfather’s…I like the shop better. The machine shop…Downstairs with Henry.”
“Your father’s business partner works in a machine shop?”
“Do you like being Chief Innovation Officer?”
She nodded. “But…sometimes…working with family…” She finished the sentence with a two thumbs-down gesture.
Tyler simply nodded. She couldn’t imagine working with her own sisters, much less a platoon of siblings and cousins. “Please call me Tyler.”
“Tyler,” Georgie DiNamico repeated it as if trying the name on for the first time. “You like boats?”
Tyler nodded. “I don’t really know anything about them. I do know DME is still building world-class sailing yachts but it’s no longer your core business.”
Grabbing the keyboard, Georgie tapped in a few keystrokes before slapping Enter. A detailed company organizational chart popped up on the widescreen display. It was color-coded and provided the names, titles, and a brief description of responsibilities under each heading. “Marnie explain…about…a family company?”
“I haven’t met Mrs. Pulaski. I interviewed with Ms. Chan.”
That information temporarily stalled Georgie’s train of thought. “Susan Chan. Director of recruiting.” She clicked on the box with Susan’s name in it. A pop-up window displayed a professional photograph and a high-level CV of the recruiting manager, including awards and years in service with DME. Georgie opened an unseen menu and selected the second organizational chart. This one was far more detailed and technically more complicated. “Family…company,” Georgie said as explanation.
Tyler looked at the org chart again, only then realizing it was actually a family tree. Susan Chan’s name was highlighted, probably because Georgie had followed the link from her corporate webpage. Susan was connected to the family tree by marriage. According to the chart her spouse was Anthony DiNamico, master boat builder.
“Susan will explain.”
“I’m sorry, explain what about your family?”
She shook her head, returning her attention to the keyboard. The pop-up window and the company org chart were replaced by the job posting with title and description. It was far more detailed than the posting she’d applied for. Listed under the title Executive and Personal Assistant to the CIO were specifics that surprised her. Items like research product liability and ethics exclusive of financial responsibilities were right up her alley. Others, however, left a little to be desired. Having to maintain your boss’s daily calendar was menial enough without adding duties like personal shopping to the list. Still, it didn’t look as bad as she had imagined it would be. Pointing to the widescreen display, she asked point-blank, “Are you telling me I’ll have the opportunity to research and formulate opinions when it comes to issues that may be involved in new products?”
Instead of answering directly, Georgie returned her attention to the keyboard. She opened the text box and began typing furiously.
It took a moment before Tyler realized she was typing a response instead of answering the question. She read the point notes word by word as they appeared on the screen. Her could-be boss was describing the opportunities that would be made available to her to continue her own academic research and writing while she examined the new issues facing their technology branch. Before she could comprehend why someone would consider paying her a salary to not do a particular job, the second pop-up window appeared. The bullet points streamed up on screen even faster. This list closely matched the job description she had been provided in her last interview. According to the note Georgie was furiously typing, these were the duties Marnie Pulaski had deemed required for any assistant or researcher she hired.
“Does that mean you’re offering me the job?”
The question appeared to confuse Georgie even more. “I…you want to…babysit?”
Tyler carefully surveyed Georgie’s curious self-control. From where she was sitting, the woman was the embodiment of contrast. Obviously she could afford better shirts than what she wore. Did she choose the suits and just accept the shirts or was it the other way around? Then there were her hands. Small, even petite, but strong somehow. They still showed a tan from the summer and a myriad of tiny white scars, the type gained from rough work. Still they looked soft, gentle almost with short-cropped nails that reminded her of a surgeon’s hands. These were hands, she imagined, that never hesitated. Maybe she spent her summers on the lake, sailing one of her family yachts. “What is your job?”
Georgie clicked a few buttons, displaying the company org chart again. “CIO,” she said, pointing to the organization chart. “Chief Innovation Officer.”
“I didn’t ask what your title was.” Tyler pushed her, much as she would a presumptive student. “I asked what it is you do?”
Seemingly oblivious to her attitude, Georgie appeared more surprised by the question than anything else. “New product technologies…build or license. Improve or innovate.” When Tyler didn’t comment, she seemed to interpret her silence as a lack of understanding. Resting the wireless keyboard on her knees, she typed furiously, head down, her too-long bangs bobbing in her eyes and with the fixed concentration of a small child. On the flat-screen several file folders popped up, then one opened to display a portfolio of jpegs from which she selected four thumbnails to expand.
The images were of some safety device. That was an easy guess. Tyler recognized the red stripe across the white waterproof case. Of course, the stenciled “RESCUE” was a dead giveaway too. The second photo showed inside of the case which was packed like an egg carton with what looked like six flashlights and an iPad.
“Sea Rover Rescue. DynaCraft standard equipment,” Georgie explained.
Moving closer to take in the images displayed, she had to ask, “What does it do?”
Georgie stood too, moving to stand beside her. “Man Overboard rescue,” she said, pointing to a photo of a life jacket. An expanded illustration detailed some sort of microchip. “GPS tracker…iPad controller.”
Pointing out the six flashlight-style objects, shown in the open equipment case, Tyler asked her, “What are these other things?”
The last of the open images showed a person in the water, maybe twenty, thirty yards behind the rear of a sailboat. With snow falling on a slush-churned surface, the image was more than frightening but failed to answer the question. When Georgie realized she wasn’t following, she clicked on the last image and opened a video file. The title read: DME Man Overboard Tracking System. There were other details too, like the Field Test number and the date.
That caught Tyler’s attention. “You test marine safety equipment in December?”
Taking a seat back on the couch, Georgie motioned for Tyler to do the same before pressing play on the video. Automatically tilting her head to match the keeled over angle of the horizon, Tyler realized the camera had to be hard mounted to the deck of a sailboat, and assumed they were using a company sailing yacht as the test vehicle. The rearview perspective painted a picture of the fiercely frigid day. The boat’s wake cut like a knife through the inches of snow that had accumulated on the surface. A person, clearly the test subject, dressed in what appeared to be a heavyweight wetsuit, stepped into the camera’s view before donning one of the company’s patented life jackets. A second person held up the iPad in its waterproof case at an angle easily covered by the camera. With heavy gloves on and through the waterproof case, the operator easily opened the DME rescue app. Within seconds the screen displayed several overlapping icons. One was shaped like a boat while another reminded her of those international swimming symbols she saw at high school meets. The iPad app clearly showed the test subject was still on board. At that moment the person holding the iPad gave a thumbs-up and without hesitation, the person in the wetsuit leaped backward and overboard.
“Oh my God!” Tyler immediately clamped her hands over her mouth. She watched in horror as the distance between the rear of the boat and the person in the water expanded at an alarming rate. Considering the conditions, she expected the people on board to immediately make haste. Instead, one crew member remained standing with the iPad in clear view of the camera, while another held up one of the flashlight devices. With a quick twist, it emitted a flashing light…
“Boosters…Range boosters,” Georgie qualified.
As they watched, the second crewman continued to casually remove boosters, one at a time from the equipment box, activating each with a quick twist before tossing them into the open water. As each one went active, another icon appeared on the iPad screen. When the last of the boosters were in the water, the crewman holding the iPad selected a single button. While it continued to show the position of the lost crewman and each of the boosters, it now added a recovery course. The camera angle then changed to show the helm and compass. The crewman at the wheel turned for the heading specified on the screen and followed the track line exactly as detailed. Within minutes the course line of the sailboat and the position of the man overboard intersected. The camera was twisted back around to follow the recovery operation. First hooking the overboard crewman, they then turned back to the original course and, with a pole net, swept up the six floating boosters. Chasing after the line of flashing beacons, Tyler was transfixed by the sight of the sailing yacht surging against the unforgiving brutality of the frigid cold gray lake.
“That’s me,” Georgie DiNamico said proudly.
“Holding the iPad?”
Seeming confused by the assumption, she pointed to the person who had been hauled aboard and was hunkered down while a second person covered her with a heavy blanket.
Tyler gave her a hard stare. “That water must have been freezing! The swells look to be at least six feet high!”
“Yes,” she confirmed without elaboration.
“Are you crazy?” She hadn’t meant to say it out loud. Though, considering how shocked she was, she was relieved to realize she hadn’t been screaming at the top of her lungs. No wonder the company thought she needed a babysitter! What kind of person would throw herself overboard during a snowstorm? Even the person holding the iPad was bundled in a heavy-looking slicker and waterproof gloves. “Is that snow? Where the hell were you?”
“There,” she answered, pointing out the window to Lake Erie. “Marnie…was angry. At Henry…too.” At that admission, Georgie appeared seriously bothered. “He is my friend,” she lamented. Without saying more, she turned and walked toward the overly large window facing the lake.
Not sure what was happening, Tyler stood and watched as her perspective employer brooded by the window. Before she could apologize or even comprehend her own reaction to the video clip, she was startled by the clicking sounds from a dog’s paws pacing across the marble floor. From behind the glass partition wall that separated Georgie’s office space from the meeting area, a large chocolate Lab sauntered out, leash in mouth, heading straight to Georgie’s side. It nuzzled up to the suddenly pensive woman, pestering her until she finally wrapped her lower arm around the big brown dog’s head and held it comfortingly against her hip.
Tyler was at a loss for words. Georgie DiNamico had withdrawn like a hurt child. A child who brought her dog to work? Before she could think of what to say, or even what to do, Zoe slipped into the office from an unseen entrance. “Georgie! Henry’s waiting downstairs for you and Maggie. Why don’t you head out while Tyler and I have a visit with Marnie?”
Turning and accepting the leash from her dog, Georgie looked to Zoe and Tyler as if almost surprised by their presence. “Good to go?”
“Good to go! Now off with you. Henry’s waiting. No worries. Tyler and I have everything under control.”
Nodding her acceptance, she turned and addressed the dog with less hesitation than Tyler had experienced in the entire meeting. “Come Maggie. Let’s see…Uncle Henry found bone,” she offered with childish enthusiasm, and without a second glance she and the dog were gone.
With a heartfelt apology, Zoe said, “Sorry about that. I would’ve given you a bit more warning that she’s having a bad day but Marnie really wanted you to see what you’re getting into.”
“And what am I getting into? I have no idea what just happened!”
“Come on. Let’s head next door and let my aunt do the explaining.”
Tyler followed her through Georgie’s office and into a corridor that connected the other executive suites. “Marnie’s in the corner office. Just close enough to keep an eye on our girl without cramping her too much.”
“What’s wrong with her? I mean, she’s obviously very smart…”
“Get in here and sit down. Both of you!” a strong female voice ordered. They had just reached the threshold of another large office suite. The door signage read, Marina Pulaski, Chief Operating Officer. “Is there a problem?”
“Marnie! Take a chill pill,” Zoe offered with a cheeky smile.
Marina Pulaski stood up from behind her desk and walked across the office, extending a hand. There was no denying the family resemblance. She was the spitting image of her sister with only slight variations. She wore her dark hair long in kinky flowing waves that contrasted with her macho bossiness. She carried a few more pounds than Georgie, adding a feminine air to her executive demeanor. Like her sister, she was dressed impeccably but her suit was far more stylish. Tyler would characterize her appearance as lady boss chic with designer heels, expensive jewelry and what could only be a real Italian silk blouse. “I’ve heard very good things about you Ms. Marsh, or should I call you Dr Marsh?”
Tyler colored at the comment, more than aware that everyone knew she had omitted her academic achievements from her résumé. “I hope you’re not offended. I just found it not…helpful.”
“Relax,” Marnie ordered. “I don’t really care, but you will have to give me an updated CV for our records. That is, if you’re still interested in the job?”
“That’s my cue to leave,” Zoe said. “Anyone for a real cup?”
“Coffee,” Marnie explained. “Yeah, I guess I can handle another one. How about you, Tyler?”
“Good. Okay, let’s have a sit-down. I’m sure you have several questions at this point, but before I answer anything, I need to remind you that you signed a nondisclosure agreement. Anything discussed here today, including personal information involving my sister, is covered under that agreement. Is that understood?”
“It was when I signed it, although I’m curious now why it’s so important that I understand that Ms. DiNamico is included in your gag order.”
“Why it’s so important?” Marnie asked. Her hands fisted. Her right hand was strangling a ballpoint pen, which she clicked several times before finally putting it down and laying her hands flat on the desk. “Dr Marsh, you’re obviously a well-educated woman. I don’t know why my sister’s interested in an academic with graduate degrees in ethics and economics, but she says it works with her future plans. And if that works for her it works for me. I understand she told you a little bit about one of the new products she’s developed?”
Tyler nodded, uncomfortable challenging this woman in the way she had the sister.
Marnie picked up her ballpoint pen and began clicking it again before slapping it back down, and forcing her hands to rest. “I’m going to give you the quick version. If, when I’m done, you’re still interested in the job, I’ll be more than happy to provide additional details.
“To begin with, my sister has an IQ of 164. I assume you know what that means. What she doesn’t have is any real EQ, you know, Emotional Intelligence. Which I understand is par for the average genius. What isn’t par…” she began, picking up the pen and clicking it several more times before placing it down and asking, “Do you know anything about head injuries?”
Tyler thought she was prepared for anything, but this wasn’t what she had been expecting. “Just the basics. What happened to her?”
“Did you see that stripe of white hair? Where do I start?” she asked rhetorically as Zoe sailed in with three cups of coffee in hand.
“Start with Danny and Henry,” Zoe suggested.
Marnie groaned at her niece, who planted herself in a chair beside Tyler. “Let’s wait until Tyler says she wants the job before giving her the whole family sob story.”
“It’s not a sob story. We’re very successful, Marnie. Why are you always such a drip?”
Marnie groaned again, this time more for effect than anything else and began sipping her coffee. Finally setting her cup down and retrieving her pen, she turned her attention back to the subject at hand. “Five years ago my sister was in Afghanistan, flying a search and rescue helicopter. They were shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Georgie was the only one to survive. Evidently the missile struck somewhere near the tail, causing the whole thing to cartwheel into the ground. The main propeller thingy came flying off the top and ripped through the cockpit. It’s lucky Georgie’s such a short ass! The blade glanced off her helmet, then proceeded to take the copilot’s head right off. Georgie says she has no memory from the moment of impact. But the soldiers who found her said she’d managed to crawl out of the wreck and to a hiding spot several hundred yards away. Her first memory after the crash was waking up in the hospital in Germany. No one really understands how she survived after breaking just about every bone in her body. But it wasn’t until we got her home and she was on the mend physically when we realized that mentally and emotionally something was very wrong.”
Marnie clicked her pen several more times before forcing herself to put it down. OCD, Tyler decided.
“Don’t get me wrong, Georgie was always brilliant, but in the last five years she’s generated more patents than the entire company did in the last five decades. From a work perspective, she’s unstoppable. It’s just that outside of work, outside of her relentless need to take our engineering expertise to the edge, she’s lost. My sister can barely care for herself anymore, nor can she handle herself in social situations. Plus she can’t stand crowds of any type.” Marnie picked up her pen, clicking out her frustration, before turning her attention to her niece. “Zoe?”
“It’s as if she’s a child in some regard and an adult in others. Can I get into personal matters?” she asked. At Marnie’s nod, she pushed forward. “Before Afghanistan, she just did her monthly bit with her Guard unit. Don’t get me wrong, she loved serving with the Air National Guard and her mates respected her but she wanted to be out. Of course, she couldn’t.”
“I thought serving with the National Guard was voluntary. How come she couldn’t get out?” Tyler asked, wanting to understand what had happened.
Zoe smiled at her assumption. “Sorry, I meant out as in lesbian. Before her last deployment, she had finally met someone. She had never considered leaving the Guard until she met Margaret. That’s how we knew it was serious. I think she meant to marry old Mags once she was home from Afghanistan, but…”
“Anyway,” Marnie pushed her back on topic.
“Oh right. Well, other than serving with the National Guard, she was a competitive sailor with the local club. She had a scandalous social life before Margaret, but more than anything, Georgie was smart and fearless and fun. She’s still those things, but not in the same way. She can be fearless, but not in a smart way. As for having fun and enjoying people and family, there are only three people in the world she will let close to her. My Aunt Lori, Marnie here, and my granddad, Henry.”
Marnie translated this last part. “Henry Phipps was my father’s business partner and his best friend. Zoe is his granddaughter. I hope Susan warned you during your last interview that working here means dealing with our family?”
“She did, and she mentioned that Georgina would need to be handled, but I assumed it was more of a public affairs issue.”
“Right. Not an idiotic genius who can address a crowded auditorium full of engineers without batting an eye, but can’t make it through a dinner party without having a full-blown anxiety attack.”
“Okay…” Tyler conceded. “Not exactly how I would describe the situation, but I get your point. Georgie told me she thinks you’re trying to hire a babysitter. Are you telling me she actually chose me from the candidates that Susan Chan selected? I’m assuming she screened and interviewed other candidates?”
“She did, and to be honest you weren’t Susan’s first pick. We still keep Georgie involved in all the decision-making around here. We just aren’t always prepared for how she will react to a given situation.”
“That’s what Maggie’s for,” Zoe added, as explanation. “The dog! Maggie is a service dog. She senses, before the rest of us, that something’s amiss. Usually all it takes is a quick walk with Maggie and Georgie immediately settles down. She’s made a big difference in her sleep too. Since we got the dog, she sleeps most nights and when the nightmares come, Maggie wakes her up and gets her moving.”
Tyler considered the expectant looks from both women. What the hell was she getting herself into? “Please excuse me if I’m out of line here, but it sounds like what she needs is full-time medical care.”
“We have a nurse who comes in, a nutritionist, and a speech therapist. And once a week, either Zoe or I take her to group counseling at the Veterans Center. She doesn’t like that one as much, but she goes,” Marnie explained. “What we need is someone to be her assistant, but more than that, to be her friend. She needs to learn to trust someone else besides us. And, she needs someone to translate the world for her, to help her see things the way she used to see things.”
“If I wasn’t your first pick, why am I here?”
“You’re Georgie’s first pick.”
“And you’re trusting her on this?”
Fisting her pen like a warrior’s mace and tapping the heel of her hand as if she were setting the pace for a parade, she promised, “There are many things I don’t trust my sister to do. I don’t trust that she won’t throw herself overboard in the middle of Lake Erie during a raging snowstorm! I don’t trust that she will remember her coat when she takes that mangy doormat of a dog for a walk, or that she’ll remember to come back! I don’t trust that she won’t try to drive her car, or sail her boat! I don’t trust her to remember board meetings, or meals, or meds, or sleep, without help. Good God, there are a million things I don’t trust Georgie with but business decision-making is not one of them.” She leaned forward to say in a more relaxed tone, “I don’t know why she wants you on her personal staff, which currently consists of Henry, Skip, and that dog, but she does and that’s all I need to know. Now, if you’re not too scared, please read this. It’s the complete job description.” Before Marnie handed the sheet over, she clicked her pen, and wrote something on the bottom of the page. “That’s my offer. I know Susan gave you a range but this number makes more sense, considering the extent of your responsibilities.”
Tyler accepted the single page, quickly reading through the expectations from her perspective employer. When she reached the bottom, the number scratched there was significantly larger than she had been expecting. “I don’t want to imply I’m complaining, but that seems quite generous for this job?”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Marnie offered cryptically. “My sister intends to put your advanced degrees to work. I don’t know what an engineer needs with an economic ethicist, but she says she does or will, and from my perspective that means you’ll be doing work at a management level. If your job description didn’t include the more basic duties involved in managing Georgie, I would be making you an even higher offer. We may be a family company and small, but we are a world leader in marine technology and we reward our employees, not just for hard work, but for their education and their community involvement. Any more questions?”
“Millions, but none that I’m comfortable asking at the moment. When do you require a decision?”
“I’d like one now,” Marnie said plainly, “but if you need time, take the day.”
“Can I keep this?” Tyler asked, holding up the job description.
“Of course. I’ll let Zoe walk you out. And just so you know, she is the family gossip. So, go ahead and get the inside scoop on anything you might not feel comfortable asking me or can’t find on the Internet.”
Tyler nodded, standing and offering her hand. “I do want you to know I’m very interested. I just need a little time to consider the range of responsibilities involved.”
“Good.” Marnie shook her hand before turning her attention back to her ballpoint pen and her computer monitor.
Zoe directed her out of the office and toward the elevators. “Just let me grab my jacket, and I’ll head down to the lot with you.”
Embarrassed to have someone see her beat-up old car, Tyler waved her off. “That’s okay. I can see myself out.”
“You could, but then we wouldn’t get to chat.”
“Love your accent. I know you say you grew up here, but it sounds like you’ve spent time in Britain?”
Zoe smiled at the compliment. “It’s my half-Newfee accent. If you ever go to Newfoundland, you’ll hear it. It’s a wee bit Scottish and Irish, with a bit of mangled good old Yankee slang thrown in for fun.”
“I thought it was pronounced New-found-land, not whatever it is you just said.”
Chuckling, she pronounced it as her great-grandmother had taught her, “We say Newf-in-land. Don’t know why, but that’s just how it’s always said.”
As they stepped on the elevator, Tyler took in Zoe’s cheeky grin. “You look like you’re ready to bust. What’s that smile for?”
“Nothing, I just think you’ll be great for Georgie. I love her dearly, but that girl is a pain in my backside.”
Leading them through the lobby and directly to the visitor parking area, Zoe explained as she walked, “I’ve adored Georgie since I was a tot. She taught me how to tie my shoes and my skates. She taught me how to swim and sail. But more than that, she taught me the importance of having fun. I miss that,” she said, stopping in front of what she obviously had decided was Tyler’s car. “I miss Georgie having fun. Since the accident, since Margaret, it’s as if she doesn’t understand the concept. Don’t get me wrong, she’s good, or at least better, but…”
“You do understand she may never be the same. Sorry, I’m not an expert on head injuries, but I do know she may not get any better.”
“Of course. It’s a concern for me and Marnie too. Still, we need to give her every chance we can. God knows she did it for us while we were growing up. Georgie is the oldest of all of us—second and third generation that is.”
Tyler stood by the trunk of her Chevy, holding her briefcase in both hands and desperately trying not to shiver. “I’m a little confused about the family part. Sorry, was that rude of me to ask?”
“Not at all, and not around here. If you ever need to know anything, you come ask me. See, my granddad Henry Phipps, and Danny DiNamico, Marnie and Georgie’s dad, married sisters. Two lovely ladies they met while serving in Newfoundland. So we’re related maternally and we were all raised up like one big happy jumbled up family.”
“So you work as Marnie’s assistant and sometimes receptionist?”
“I see your look. You’re indeed a clever one but don’t read too much into it. We might all be family, but we still have to earn our place. My dad’s the CFO. His background is accounting and investment. He’s a CPA, with a master’s. When he started with the company, he was a junior accountant. He had to work his way up and so will I but unlike my dad, I haven’t finished my undergraduate degree and I haven’t a clue what I want to do with my life. So, for now I’m Marnie’s PA and that suits me fine.” Zoe gave her a quick wink. “Besides, if it weren’t for Marnie taking me on, I wouldn’t even qualify for a job at DME. Except maybe out at the boatyard, but not here. Could you see that,” she teased, “me, without my makeup and heels?”
Tyler smiled at her new friend. While she suspected Georgie was close to ten years older than she was, she guessed Zoe was a good ten years younger. It was easy to remember university and how she didn’t get serious about her studies until her junior year. Maybe Zoe had been in the same place. Making a decision opposite to what Tyler had when the time came to buckle down. “Can I ask you an inappropriate question?”
Zoe practically squealed in delight. “Now we’re talking. What terrible indiscretion can I share with you?”
Tyler bumped her briefcase against her knees, not sure if she should even ask. “Did she name that dog after her girlfriend?”
“What, Maggie? No, she came from the service academy with that name, but there was some painful overlap.”
Zoe puffed her cheeks and let out a low, slow whistle. “When Georgie got back from the veterans hospital, Margaret was all in our face about how she wanted to care for her and so on and so forth. You know, wanting to be in charge. That probably wouldn’t have been a big deal, if it wasn’t for the fact that Georgie had no idea who she was.”
“Oh my God!”
“Yeah, I know. Can you imagine? Anyway, Margaret didn’t take it well. Actually, she was a bitch on wheels and it wasn’t long until we realized she was battering Georgie over it.”
“She was beating her?”
“No, sorry. I mean battering her emotionally. She was always trying to wear her down. It wasn’t what Georgie needed. Not that we knew what to do for her, but the way Margaret behaved was unforgivable. About a month after Georgie was back with us, in the home she and Margaret built, Georgie asked to be moved. The minute we did, Margaret filed for separation and sued for damages from emotional abuse. The funny thing was, Georgie’s memory around Margaret came flooding back in soon afterward.”
“I take it Margaret wasn’t pleased her memory was returning?”
“Not at all. As a matter of fact, in her witness statement, she said that Georgie’s returning memories were causing her more emotional anxiety than relief. I can’t say I believed it. I always thought that bitch was after more than Georgie’s loving affection.”
“Wow! How did Georgie handle things?”
“Oh, she was a mess. By the time things progressed to where the court date was set, Georgie remembered everything and was overwhelmed with pain over Margaret’s betrayal. The thing is, she was already gutted from the loss of her crew. Then Margaret walking out, which was bound to happen, was more than she could bear. Margaret was always interested in the fastest and easiest way to get ahead. I guess having to take care of Georgie was more than she was willing to invest.”
“How did the court case go? Sorry,” Tyler said with regret. “I know it’s none of my business.”
“Not at all. Certainly not if you’re going to help us with my eldest aunt. It never got to court. The whole thing was taking such a toll on Georgie, she was at a point where she never wanted to see or hear a single word from Margaret. So, she asked Marnie to make an offer. Margaret got to keep their house and all their belongings, plus a financial settlement, a rather handsome one I might add, in exchange for never coming near Georgie again. Since then, Georgie has really retreated emotionally. If it wasn’t for my granddad and that bloody dog, which came with the name Maggie, I don’t think we would’ve ever gotten her to reconnect with her life at all. I think that’s why Marnie’s being so generous with her offer. You’re the first person she’s taken an interest in since coming home. I’m not saying that to pressure you. I like you and have a feeling you’d be good for her. Who knows, in a way, she might be good for you too.”
Tyler shook her head in puzzlement. “How’s that?”
“Well, you’re a professor. Don’t all you academic types like to write gads and gads of books about some such garbley-goop?”
“Garbley-goop! Well put; and yes, I’ve been looking for time to do some writing. Do you really think Georgie would allow me time to do that?”
“If it fits in with what she has planned and I know she has plans. She believes your education can be put to good use. If you’re truly concerned with the day-to-day demands of the job, why don’t you talk to her? She’s really quite accommodating, if you can be patient enough to communicate your needs.”
“I guess that’s the part I’m worried about. Maybe I should’ve paid more attention during psychology one-oh-one.”
“Really? That was one of my faves. Tell you what, you take the job and I’ll do all the psychology one-oh-oneing, while you help Georgie with her new project.”
“You know what the new project’s about?”
“Hardly,” Zoe retorted, turning for the main entrance. “I don’t understand the projects she’s finished, much less anything she’s just starting.” She backtracked to where Tyler stood, retrieving the visitor’s badge pinned to her jacket. “I hope you take the job, Tyler. I think we’ll be great friends.” With that, she moved as fast as her stilettos would take her, waving her goodbye as she slipped through the lobby door.
Tyler slid into her Chevy, tossing her briefcase on the passenger seat. She crossed her fingers, turned the ignition key and listened to the starter grind until the engine finally turned over. As much as she hated the car, she did want to thank the good people at Chevrolet for the industrial heaters they built. Once her hands began to warm again and she could feel the circulation returning, she pulled out the single sheet of paper that described the job she’d been offered.
Executive and Personal Assistant to the Chief Innovation Officer.
EA Duties: Performs administrative duties for the CIO. Responsibilities may include screening calls; managing calendars; making travel, meeting and event arrangements; preparing reports and financial data; training and supervising other support staff; customer relations. Requires strong computer and Internet research skills, experience writing technical reports, flexibility, excellent interpersonal skills, project coordination experience, and the ability to work well with all levels of internal management and staff, as well as outside clients and vendors. Sensitivity to confidential matters is required.
PA Duties: Supervise the daily activities of the assigned executive. Responsibilities may include: setting and maintaining a personal schedule; booking personal and medical appointments; shopping, including wardrobe, prescription medications, etc; driving the executive to appointments and events; accompanying the executive to conferences and on all business travel. Complete confidentiality in all matters relating to the executive is required. The PA may on occasion be called on to represent the executive at meetings, conferences, or corporate events.
The EPA position requires significant travel, irregular work hours, and advanced project leadership skills. The standard benefits in the remuneration package include medical; dental; hearing and vision care; along with a company matching retirement plan. A company vehicle will be made available when needed. Additionally, a wardrobe stipend is available for those occasions when the EPA must accompany or represent the executive at conferences or corporate events.
Tyler wasn’t sure which startled her more, the fact that they were offering her use of a car and expenses just to babysit Georgie DiNamico, or the number Marnie had scrawled at the bottom: 94k.
Who the hell pays a secretary ninety-four thousand dollars a year just to babysit a crazy, hit in the head savant?
Tyler pulled out her cell phone, and happy to get a signal, she speed-dialed her most called number. When the line picked up, she smiled. “Hi Dad. Are you free for lunch?”
Local: (850) 576-2370
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Tallahassee, Florida 32302
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