We all stared at Sarah. “Jason quit?” I felt I just had to clarify. “Not Sean?”
Bree looked as confused as I did. “What, like, he ‘quit smoking’-quit like Sean?”
Sarah shook her head. “As in he ‘quit working for Frost’-quit,” she said. “But before I get into that, I’m about to explode.” She gestured towards Henry and Charlotte. “Come on, Rugrat,” she told Charlotte, indicating Henry should pass her over. “It’s dinner time.”
Charlotte startled awake when Henry transferred her, looking groggy and confused as Sarah sat herself on one of the stools, unbuttoned her shirt and unceremoniously flopped a boob out for her.
I hurriedly looked down at my plate. I knew Sarah wasn’t shy about breastfeeding, but it just seemed somehow impolite to be looking at Sarah’s face when just 30cm away from it there was a naked breast.
Beside me, Bree was snickering. I glanced up at her and she gave me this knowing look. Great! I’d definitely hear all about what a prude I was later.
“I can’t believe I have another five months of this,” Sarah complained, oblivious to me continuing my fine tradition of not coping with anything to do with babies. “Anyway, as I was saying, Jason didn’t show up for the staff meeting. We were looking at each other like—did the investigation about Min’s complaint about him finally end or something? Because he never takes sick leave and the whole team was supposed to be there. And then at the end of the meeting Omar’s just like, ‘Oh, by the way, Jason’s resigned effective immediately’ and then just walked out and left us there to be like, ‘What?’”
‘What?’ was my reaction. I even looked up from my food. “Do you think it was because of my complaint?” When Sarah shrugged, we looked at Henry for an answer.
Henry had his professional poker face on. “I’m not managing that investigation,” he reminded us. “Sean tried to frame me for Min quitting because we broke up the day before he left, remember? I was investigated, too, and as far as I’m aware, it’s ongoing.”
Sarah chewed her lip. “And Sean tried to frame you to protect Jason because they’re friends.” She reconsidered that. “Or were friends, or were sleeping together, or whatever. So maybe they weren’t able to figure out some way to pin it on you after all and were forced to tell Jason to resign?”
Henry made a non-committal noise in response. “There’s no definitive link between Sean and Jason,” he pointed out. “I know they were on good terms, but much of management is.”
Sarah scoffed. “’Good terms’,” she repeated. “They worked out together, which meant they showered together, and they went drinking together…” Sarah obviously thought this would make it clear they were sleeping together, but Henry just watched her with a completely impassive expression. It was useless to try and draw him into any of this stuff; he took all that HR confidentiality stuff very seriously.
While I was wondering if Henry did know anything else about Jason that he wasn’t letting on about, Bree suddenly piped up. “Perhaps it has something to do with this?” She nudged the paper with the article about Sean towards Sarah.
Sarah glanced at it and snorted. “Okay, I shouldn’t laugh,” she said, “but the Marketing meme factory were right on this with the timing of Jason’s resignation.” She awkwardly leant forward over Charlotte and dug her phone out of her handbag, fumbling with it before turning the screen around to show us.
The picture of Sean from the newspaper article was on it, but instead of the ‘I quit for my children’, it said, ‘I quit fags’. “I actually saw this before I read the paper.”
Bree wrinkled her nose. “Classy.”
“Well, ‘Classy’ has never been a great description of any of the pricks I work with,” Sarah observed, putting her phone away. “But despite how crass that meme is, I’m 500% sure it’s right. I think Jason quit because of Sean.” She nodded at the paper. “Maybe Sean’s turning a new Family Man leaf and they have stopped sleeping together.”
Henry had been looking progressively more uncomfortable with the conversation and getting into Sean’s sex life again appeared to be the clincher. “Okay!” he said, standing up. “Rob! Care for a couple of rounds of Call of Duty?”
Rob, who’d been tucking into his food and listening intently, looked surprised at the sudden interruption and spent a few moments staring blankly at Henry. Then, he finally got the hint. “Oh!” he laughed. “Oh, yeah. Sure, if you want to cane my ass, I’m up for it. I’m terrible at that game.”
Henry smiled pleasantly. “I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to ‘cane your ass’.” He indicated for Rob to follow him.
Bree glanced sideways at me again as they left, smirking. I gave her a tired look, and she giggled.
Sarah waited for them to go shut themselves in the rumpus room before she leant forwards to us and whispered, “So we agree Henry knows more about this than he’s letting on, right?”
I thought about Rob’s resume; Henry always knew more than he let on, but there was no use asking him about it. He wouldn’t say, and I didn’t want to put him in a difficult position. I just shrugged.
Sarah made a face. “Yeah. Anyway…” She exhaled, thinking. “Maybe Sean told him he’s on some Good Boy Family Man kick and isn’t going to cheat on his wife with hot subordinates anymore?”
Bree considered that. “Or maybe it’s the opposite? Maybe they are sleeping together and Jason’s like ‘Wow, I can’t deal with your hypocrisy of pretending to be some hot-shot family guy while you’re giving it to me?’”
I groaned. “Or maybe it’s nothing to do with Sean and it’s something to do with my complaint and the investigation being complete?” I offered. Both of them looked at me like I was some sort of spoil-sport. “What?” I asked them. “Not everything has to be about sex.”
That scored me an especially disappointed look from Sarah. “It doesn’t have to be, but in this case it totally is.”
“Maybe,” I said, not convinced. “Anyway, if Jason’s gone, does that mean my complaint against him will stop being investigated and I can finally get my entitlements paid? I might be able to clear my credit card debt.”
Sarah shrugged. “I mean, I guess? You could call them and ask.”
“I asked Henry’s assistant several times last year and just got brick-walled,” I reminded her. As I said that, though, it occurred to me that Jason leaving might change things.
Sarah apparently was able to read my mind. “I’ll nose around a bit tomorrow and see if it’s different now that Jason’s left, if you like?” I smiled in thanks.
Bree looked thoughtful. “It would be so ironic if Sean was trying to frame Henry for being the reason Min left because they broke up, and it turns out Jason left Frost because he and Sean did,” Bree mused, still apparently stuck on them sleeping together.
“I don’t think they were ever actually dating,” I told her, remembering back to when Jason was my manager and he’d been all too happy to tell me how much of a prick Sean was. “I actually don’t even know if they liked each other in any real genuine way.”
“They acted like they did,” Sarah pointed out.
“Sean’s a great actor, and Jason’s whatever Frost needs him to be.” I paused. “Or needed him to be, anyway.”
We threw a few more theories around while we finished our food and Sarah tried to juggle the task of holding a breastfeeding baby and also eating. None of our ideas stuck, though; we had so little to go on other than that the coincidental timing of Jason leaving and Sean’s new ‘family man’ PR push.
Eventually, our theories dried up. Sarah ran out of steam first; and for her to be too tired to gossip meant she’d probably end up passing out in bed soon. So, since she was here, still awake, and I had—I glanced at my watch—56 hours to finish the graphics submission for her and her team, I dragged my tablet over beside her to show her what I was working on and get some feedback before she went to bed.
Bree’s eyes glazed over. “I’m going to go chill with Henry and Rob.” She went and put our plates in the dishwasher and disappeared.
Sarah gave me some suggestions about the graphics, and I worked on them long past everyone else had gone to bed and all I could hear was the hum of the poor, battered aircon unit. By the time I crawled into bed beside Bree, it was after midnight.
On Monday, Sarah had her final meeting with the Valentine’s Day team to finalize the graphics, which I definitely hadn’t stayed up until 3am on Sunday night polishing off. Despite going to bed that late, I woke up before 8am anyway (what if Sarah needed me to change something last minute?!) and made Henry breakfast because I felt bad about how much I was staying with him.
“You cooking for me?” He looked genuinely surprised, but he was grinning. He pretended to pinch himself.
“Yeah, yeah,” I told him, shooing him out the door so he didn’t miss his 8am meeting. “I have a bright future ahead of me as a house husband. All I need to do is figure out what a baby is.”
I could hear him chuckling even after the door had closed. I briefly smiled.
Henry’s house was enormous which meant there were loads of rooms to do anxious laps of while I was waiting to find out if Sarah needed me to change anything about the graphics before launch. There was no point in cleaning anything because Bree, who was apparently some sort of alien, seemed to actually get joy out of cleaning Henry’s house. She’d even gone through Henry’s library and dusted all of his books one-by-one and then put them all back in alphabetical order, “so he can find them more easily!!”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her the library was mainly just for decoration because he didn’t have time to read these days.
Because of her, though, I didn’t really have anything to do, so I alternated between staring at my phone and checking seek.com.au in case by some miracle there was a posting like ‘Digital Artist with Absolutely No References Sought for Trans-Friendly Company’. It was ridiculous of me to be looking for work anyway, because I was going to lose my place in my Master of Fine Arts at USyd if I didn’t start classes at some point this year. It was all a moot point, though, because there were no art jobs going anywhere.
There were plenty of marketing positions open—if I wanted to sell my soul to a corporation and be miserable again. Ironically, ‘Frost International Director of Marketing’ was already advertised, not even 24 hours after Jason had resigned, which made me wonder if Sean and Diane had known he was going to leave in advance. Anyway, it was probably one of those dummy job ads because Frost always promoted from within and Omar had been acting Marketing Manager for 9 months. Frost wouldn’t waste money on another enormous salary if they didn’t need to, so I figured Omar would just have his job description officially changed and it would be business as usual.
Omar was okay, I decided. He’d been an irritating Sales manager to work with when I’d been an employee there, and Sarah wasn’t a huge fan of his either. Honestly, though, anyone was better than Jason. I was glad he wasn’t managing Sarah anymore.
On the topic of Sarah, I realised I hadn’t heard from her and it was nearly midday. I figured it wouldn’t really be nagging just to check if everything was okay.
“Hey,” I began my message, “just checking to see if the submissions got approved? Was the blue tint okay in the end?”
I got a reply right away. “Oh yeah, we need to get rid of the blue,” it read. “They want to stick with the whole red-valentines-day motif thing and just have it contrast the Frost black and white.” I scrunched up my face. I understood the argument behind that decision, but I thought it was rather uninspired. Since I had my tablet in front of me, I fixed the materials and emailed them to her. Another message shot through. “Wow! You work fast. I knew there was a reason we keep giving you contracts ;)”
“Definitely not an inside job at all. I got it all 100% based on merit and how fast I respond.”
“That’s the exact wording I put in all my reports ;)”
I chuckled at that and then went to go have a shower. I hadn’t even gotten as far as the bathroom when my phone buzzed in my hand and a call came through. I glanced at the screen, frowning as I answered. “Sarah?”
I could tell she was whispering into the receiver. “Okay, so we’re going to stop texting about the graphics stuff,” she said very cryptically. There was an echoey quality about her voice which suggested she was in a bathroom—the women’s bathroom, probably. With the small number of women working at Frost, they were the most private place in the building. “I stupidly asked the team a question about the graphics you’d mailed through right as I texted you again, and Ian was like, ‘Wait, do you know the graphic designer guy personally?’ and then suddenly everyone on the team was super interested in why I was being so friendly with ‘the graphic designer guy’. Anyway, long story short, they think I’m sleeping with you.”
I had to laugh at that. “Interesting. They’re speculating about your sex life.”
She groaned. “Yes, yes, I get it, serves me right,” she said dismissively. “But don’t you see the problem here? They’re being sus about who the designer is. Like, they’re watching this stuff now, and—let’s be serious—your work is too familiar for people to not eventually guess it’s you if they look too hard. And if they guess, and if Diane finds out I went behind everyone’s back and sneakily engineered the graphics contracts for you even after you were fired….”
The smile dropped off my face. “You think they could guess just from looking at my materials?”
“Yeah? I mean, a bunch of them worked with you for years. If they’re suspicious anyway, maybe it’d click.”
I hadn’t considered that. “Fuck.”
“Yeah,” Sarah said emphatically, and then sighed. “Man, I’m such an idiot. It didn’t even occur to me not to text you about the materials.”
I wiped a hand over my face. It hadn’t occurred to me either. “Maybe it will blow over if I just email the team questions in future?” I said hopefully.
Sarah didn’t sound as optimistic. “Yeah, maybe.” She exhaled. “Look, I’m sure you’re right. I’m sure it’s all going to be fine and I’m worried for nothing. These pricks just love a sex scandal.”
I couldn’t let that one go. “Maybe that’s why you fit in so well.”
I could almost hear her eyes rolling. “Ugh. I’m so done with this call. Speak with you after work—or much sooner if I get fired. Bye.”
“Bye.” I took the phone from my ear and looked at it, feeling deeply uneasy. She was just joking, but there was something about the way she’d just casually dropped being fired into the conversation that worried me. Sarah couldn’t really be fired for this, could she? Like, maybe she’d get told off, but—well, she wasn’t doing anything illegal, right? Despite that, a rock formed in my stomach.
It didn’t go away all day, and it was still there when Henry arrived home at some ungodly hour of the evening.
“It’s just me!” he called reassuringly from the door as if anyone else would pull up in a Lexus at 10pm, but stopped dead in his tracks when he saw my expression. “What happened? Are you alright?”
Well, there was no use in beating about the bush. “Do you think Sarah can be fired for sneaking me contracts?”
His eyebrows went up. Before he answered, he dumped his briefcase on the counter and took his jacket off, looking thoughtful. “Well, if someone wanted to fire her, she could be fired for basically anything.”
I didn’t believe that. “If that was true, Sean would have fired you three years ago.”
He blinked at me. “Good point,” he said eventually. “Although I don’t think Sarah is generally well-liked by the Frost board of directors or good friends with the union’s head lawyer.”
“So, I should tell Sarah to make powerful friends because she can be fired for sub-contracting to me?”
He laughed gently and put a hand on my shoulder. “If I thought you accepting contracts was that much of a problem, I would have told you,” he promised me. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, but I couldn’t find anything in Frost’s policies that expressly forbids ex-employees from taking work contracts, either.”
“But she tells me exactly what to write in the tenders because she’s part of the team who sets the guidelines. Isn’t that like insider trading or something?”
He grimaced. “I wish you weren’t telling me this,” he said. “It puts me in a very difficult position, professionally.”
Great! Now I had another, larger rock forming in my stomach. “Fuck. I’m sorry.”
He noted my expression and watched me for a few moments while he pulled his tie off. “If you’re that worried about it, why don’t you speak to the union? I’m sure Natalie has better advice about contract and trading law than I do.”
‘Natalie’ meant Natalie Heiser, Henry’s friend and a partner at Heiser & Anderson, the firm that did all the legal representation and advice for the Mining and Energy Union. Ordinarily I would have preferred to avoid meeting with her—she was one of those corporate sharks who’d probably wear the skins of her defeated enemies if she didn’t like Dolce & Gabana so much—but given how terrible I’d been feeling all day, the promise of advice that might give me relief seemed worth the sacrifice.
Oh, well. At least she didn’t charge us for advice. “That would be great, actually,” I said, and then at his expression, clarified, “Not meeting Natalie, just the legal advice.”
He laughed at that. “Despite what she’s like, she really does enjoy helping,” he promised me, and then went to have a shower before he called her.