Tonight's section bring Chapter 4 to a close.
When Kristy’s alarm began to sound, less than four hours after she had gone to bed, her first thought was to get another hour’s sleep and drag herself out of bed with mere moments to spare before her 5AM call with Bryn. Her second thought was to send Bryn some sort of curt email declaring that she was unavailable that morning. The first she rejected as a matter of personal standards, the second because she didn’t want to have to wait till after the weekend before enquiring about when she would be returning home. Despite this triumph of will over exhaustion, however, the call was not particularly satisfying on any front.
“How did the purchase order negotiations go?” Bryn asked, after they had covered various pieces of immediate urgency.
“Frankly, I thought we came off worse than we had to. The Trade Winds team came in demanding price increases in response to all the manufacturing errors I’d insisted that their manufacturers correct, and Todd didn’t seem able to keep up with the detail sufficiently to rebut all their demands.”
“Were you able to help him with the facts?”
“I tried where I could. But I couldn’t do the negotiating for him, and there was a limit to what I could do. I was already working beyond my scope trying to cover for him.”
Bryn shrugged it off. “Well, it’s commendable you tried. At the end of the day, it’s Procurement that’ll take the blame if they don’t hit their cost targets.
Anything else interesting? Did you at least get a good dinner out of it?”
Kristy was tight-lipped and instead shifted the conversation to her return.
Bryn sighed. “I want to get you back here as soon as possible. It’s awkward having had so little real time together since you started. And I would think things should be on a good footing for a while now that Todd has finalized pricing and placed purchase orders for the first season’s inventory. But the cross functional team wants to wait till we get Todd’s full report on Monday before scheduling your return. I’m sure we’ll have you back some time soon.”
“Is there a point when it starts to be a bad use of company money to keep me sitting around here just in case there’s something for me to do?” Kristy demanded, exasperation causing professional demeanor to slip for a moment. “I’m supposed to be a product line director, not a babysitter for the Chinese side of the operation.”
“Look, I hear you,” Bryn said. “Don’t think I like having one of my line directors stuck outside the country either. There’s lots I’d rather have you doing.”
“You know, honestly, what with having to wait through another weekend, go take yourself out on the expense account and break the monotony a bit. So long as it’s not totally insane I’ll make sure that it works out okay with accounts payable when it comes through. And there’s no benefit to having you go nuts over there. Soak up some culture or something.”
Kristy reflected on the examples of culture and soaking which she’d seen the night before but remained silent. “I’ll come up with something. Honestly, though, I just want to get home. This is getting excessive.”
“I hear you.”
“Well make the cross functional team hear me. If this goes on another week without a good reason, I will call them up individually to tell them how they can go fuck themselves.”
“Kristy, I get it. Chill.”
“The only expense account indulgence I want is a ticket home, okay?”
“Well, go get a massage or something. Take the weekend off. Relax. And I hope I’ll have some good news for you on Monday.”
They closed the call.
Over the weekend which followed, Kristy attempted to give the expense account some exercise, but her heart was not in it. Back in her room, she tried calling Katie, but Katie seemed oddly preoccupied. She tried calling Dan, but he did not answer his phone.
Tuesday morning — Monday afternoon in California — Kristy woke easily at 4AM, eager to find what news the new week brought in relation to her return. Instead, she found an email from Bryn waiting for her: “Some things have come up and I can’t make our call this afternoon. Feel free to catch some ‘me time’. I should have updates shortly.”
Irretrievably awake, Kristy went down to the hotel gym to work out until the breakfast buffet opened. When she got back to her room and checked her laptop she found that Bryn had cancelled their morning meetings for the next three days.
She spent Tuesday and Wednesday in anxious inactivity, then Thursday woke up to find an email from the travel department with a travel itinerary for her to fly home the next day. She tried calling and emailing Bryn but received no response, but the tickets themselves were an undeniable fact. She packed her bags and scheduled the hotel car to take her down to the airport.
It is a strange fact of travel that if you leave Guangzhou flying to San Francisco, you arrive at almost exactly the same time that you leave. This no-time-at-all takes fully twenty hours. Conscious of this, Kristy paused in the airport to stock up on reading material. Although her boarding pass told her that she would spend all of three minutes in the air, she knew that these three minutes would provide her with plenty of time to experience boredom.
Over the timeless expanse of the Pacific, while reading an English language newspaper which had already been two days old when she had picked it up in the airport, Kristy found herself regarding a familiar face.
“The Chinese Manufacturing Game,” read the headline. And next to it, April Holland’s byline and blond visage.
She read the article with a growing feeling of expectation, and these expectations were fulfilled when she obediently “continued reading on page D6” and found herself quoted at length.
“Kristy Nilsson, product line director for the revived Courier brand, currently in the midst of sourcing its new product line in Guangdong Province, spoke with me about the difficulties of sourcing in China….”
There followed a number of her comments from the evening spent with April over the bottle of Johnnie Walker black label, which read in the sober, if somewhat cramped, light of a trans-oceanic flight seemed all the more blunt in their force.
She had, in the days during which communication from Aspire had ceased, wondered whether perhaps Todd had returned to the office in full confessional mode and informed HR of his behavior the night before he left. Were that the case, the silence and then sudden return home might be an artifact of Legal trying decide how best to deal with the situation and advising others not to communicate with her until they had resolved the question. Now she wondered if instead it was the result of the company trying to decide how to respond to her extensive quoted comments in this newspaper article.
As she contemplated these two alternatives she felt a sudden sense of freedom. She knew what it was that she would do, and there remained only a feeling of peace unlike any she had known in some weeks. She closed the newspaper, reclined her seat, and slept.
The plane arrived in San Francisco slightly early, with the amusing result that the passengers arrived before they left. Few seemed refreshed by this bit of trivia as they stumbled tiredly down the jetway. Having slept unusually soundly, Kristy strode off the plane with purpose, her bag rolling behind her. Once out of the initial press of the crowd, she found a seat and pulled out her cell phone. She considered briefly the satisfaction of simply sending an email, but called instead. Bryn answered.
“Kristy. Hi! You must have just landed.”
“Yep. Just stepped of the plane.”
“How was your flight?”
“It was good. I got some clarity at thirty thousand feet and I’m quitting.”
“I am resigning my position, effective immediately. I will not be coming in today. I’m going to go rest up a bit.”
“Whoa. Kristy. Hold on. You’re tired. Is this about—”
“Actually, I’m rested. I slept very well on the plane. I’m happy to tell you what this is and is not about. It is not about Todd. — If you don’t know what I’m talking about, ask him.”
“It is not about the newspaper article, either. I stand by everything I said, actually. To the word.”
“Hold on, we—”
“Thinking about this job, this industry, this company, this past seven weeks, I’ve decided that I’m done. When I took this job, I was convinced that anything would be better than being jobless. I see now that is not entirely the case.”
“Can we just—”
“I will be in tomorrow afternoon to drop off my laptop, company credit card, and any other company property. I will turn in my final expense receipts then. I do not think it would do either of us any good for me to stay on for two weeks.”
“I know that you must—”
“Goodbye, Bryn. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She hung up. For a moment she sat looking at the phone. It began to vibrate with an incoming call. It was Bryn. She turned the phone off.
She collected her checked bag and then her car. The 101 was traffic-free. Mid-morning on a Friday. Everyone was at work. Two months before this feeling that everyone else was occupied, was wanted, while she was not had been paralyzing. Perhaps in another month or two it would be paralyzing again, but at this moment she felt utter bliss. One thing she had instinctually resolved today was not to borrow trouble.
Back in the South Bay, nearing home, she pulled off two exits early and stopped at her usual salon.
“I know I don’t have an appointment, but I was wondering if you have an opening. Normally I see Amanda, but anyone will do.”
“Actually, it looks like Amanda has an opening at 10:30. Do you mind waiting fifteen minutes?”
“Not at all.”
She settled in one of the chairs and pulled out her phone to check her email, then stopped herself and returned it to her purse. She skimmed a few articles in Us. It seemed that Angelina could not resolve her babysitting issues but had a new beach body. Nicole was settling into motherhood. In the auditory background, the women of The View discussed the Issue Of The Day. All of it was somehow glorious.
Amanda came out and greeted her at 10:30.
“Kristy! It’s been a long time. How have you been?”
“I got sent to China for seven weeks for a new job. I tried to get my highlights touched up and… Well, you see.”
Amanda, having now been sanctioned to be critical of the hair, nodded sympathetically. “Oh, you poor thing. I was wondering!”
“After the bleach job, I didn’t trust anyone in China to try to fix it. I haven’t even been home yet. I came straight here to see you.”
“We’ll get you fixed right up. No one will even know. What happened in China stays in China, right?”
“So, you want it back the way it was before, sweetie?”
“You know, I’m thinking maybe my natural color. I just want to look normal.”
“Natural color… Alright, let’s see what we can find for you. Let’s start out with a nice relaxing wash, okay?”
Amanda led her back towards the sinks. Kristy’s mind went back to her conversation with Katie after the bleaching. “Do you think, maybe just a little bit of red? With my natural brown?”
“Oh, sweetie, you would look great with just some little hints of red. I know exactly the right thing.”
An hour and a half later, feeling relaxed and slightly red-headed, Kristy sat giving herself a final look over in the rear view before starting the car. Then, out of long habit, she pulled out her phone to check email.
She hesitated, then turned it on. There were several emails in her work mailbox, but she ignored them and checked her personal box instead. Among numerous pieces of junk mail, LinkedIn updates, and other detritus that had accumulated during her hours in the air was an email from Lauren Baird at Search Solutions:
“Kristy, I know it’s been a long time since we last talked, but I wanted to check and see if you’re still available and potentially interested in the Schneider & Sons opportunity.”
Kristy sent back a single word response: “Yes.”