Suspiciously Obedient

Page 18

Her stomach made her stop, and she realized that she had no idea what Icelandic food was. Herring? Aiming for the familiar, she looked and saw a vegetarian restaurant. That had to have something good, right? When she walked up to the counter the woman was speaking to a person before her, handing them her change, her voice fluid, Icelandic pouring out, and then she turned to Lydia and said in perfect, just barely accented English, “Hello. How may I help you?”

Lydia grinned. The girl was probably high school age, with braided blonde hair and a wide smile. “A grilled chicken salad, please.” She paused, amused and a bit dumbstruck, then asked, “How do you know I speak English?”

The girl smiled back and said, “It was a good guess.” Then she leaned in and whispered, “Actually, it was your shoes.”

“My shoes?”

“You wear Merrells. Most of the Americans who come here trying to fit in wear Merrells.”

Lydia laughed. “What do most Americans come in here and order?”

The young girl looked at her, tilted her head, smiled, and said, “The women all get the grilled chicken salad.”

And then she stopped and said, “Wait a minute, I thought you were a vegetarian restaurant?”

“We do have a vegetarian menu, but we serve chicken and fish.”

“Ah, okay.”

“As for the Icelanders, most of them, the women, get the grilled chicken salad, too.” The two of them laughed together. Lydia could feel a palpable sense of relief seeping in. She ordered an Orangina to go with her salad, and it was all ready in minutes. She sat at a simple, Formica-topped table, with cheap red plastic chairs that you could have found in any college town in the United States.

As she munched her way through the salad, her body allowed her to finally feel how tired she was and how overwhelming this really was going to be. Here she sat, eating a nourishing meal, watching people live their lives but doing it with different words, different architecture, different cultural norms. And the Lydia who had the guts to maliciously obey Mike’s final order finally felt like it was going to be okay.

Human resources hadn’t given her any sense of what to expect in the office other than handing her the address and saying good luck. So when she walked up to the modern, nondescript, aluminum and glass building that faced the bay, she walked into the unknown. Dressing that morning had been an exercise in futility. After five different clothing changes she just gave up and figured if she made a mistake, she made a mistake. People here seemed to be more casual, more practically minded in their sartorial choices. She went in wearing nice business shoes, business casual slacks, a blouse, a sweater in case it was cold, and hoped like hell she wasn’t expected to wear a suit.

The stairs led to a beige cubicle farm. She could have been in downtown Boston. She could have been in Charlotte, North Carolina. She could have been in Portland, Oregon. It was a beige cubicle farm and the European offices for Bournham Industries were no bigger than twelve desks.

“Is this Bournham Industries?” she asked the first person she saw, a pleasant-looking young woman who marched passed her with her arms filled with files.

“Ah, yes it is,” the woman said with a light accent. “Are you Lydia?” she asked.

“Yes, I am Lydia Charles. Is this—”

“You’re the new director of communications,” the woman said. She was older than Lydia by about ten years, and sleek and slim like someone who did triathlons. The weathered face attested to time spent outside, with a tall, live, thin body that had an abdomen that was almost concave, making Lydia suck in her own gut. Not that it made a difference (because it wasn’t going anywhere).

The woman shifted her folders into one arm and then reached out to shake Lydia’s hand. “I’m Elsa. It’s nice to meet you. Let me show you to your desk.”

Desk? She only had a desk? She thought she’d have an office. Elsa had long brown hair much like Lydia’s; her eyes, though, were the bright blue that she’d come to notice on more and more people here. Elsa marched with a deliberateness, an efficiency that Lydia appreciated instantly. And then she found herself at her office. Indeed. A piece of paper tacked to the outside cubicle that said Lydia Charles, Director of Communications for European Operations. There was a Dell desktop on the desk, a can full of pens, a printer, a ream of paper—and that was it.

Lydia dropped her laptop bag slowly onto the spare chair in the cubicle and said, “So…” The word lingered in the air as Lydia thought second by second through what she was about to say. If she asked, “So what do I do now?”— her impulse—she would look like she couldn’t lead. If she asked for more direction, she worried that Elsa would think she was an idiot and yet, here she stood in front of this desk that looked not at all unlike her desk at home, and what was she supposed to do?

Elsa seemed impatient and pulled on the sleeve of her red sweater, peering at Lydia and finally saying, “Let me go get Siggi. I think he can help.”

A creeping dread filled her stomach, spreading like a warm germ up into her lungs, down her arms, and down all the way into her toes. Siggi. Elsa. She heard the murmuring of two or three other people talking in a cubicle, speaking, she assumed, in Icelandic. She didn’t understand a single word. It was a quiet, creepy space. Not so much because of anything anyone was doing or not doing but because Lydia was beginning to feel that she had made a terrible, terrible mistake and one that she wanted to undo right this second.

“Hello,” said a booming voice right behind her and she jumped, caught in her thoughts. She turned to find her face filled with a sweater and then looked up, and up, and up. At five foot six she wasn’t a particularly short woman, but the face she finally craned back to look up to had to come on a guy who stood at about six foot eight. He made Miles look short—and she’d never met anyone who made Miles look short. This guy really looked like a Viking. It was a joking stereotype, but the long, flowing, wavy brown hair, the broad cheekbones, the slightly narrowed eyes, the big mouth, incredibly broad shoulders that literally blocked out the sun from where she stood, and legs, legs like tree trunks embedded in the beige forest, all added up to a human being who could play Rurik or Leif Eriksson on a History Channel miniseries.

“I’m Siggi,” he said, reaching down to shake her hand. It was like shaking hands with a warm baseball mitt, and he took her hand in both of his and pumped it, smiling broadly, teeth big like Chiclets. She could just stare up dumbly and realized quite quickly, shaking her head, that she had to get out of this trance.

“Hello. I’m Lydia.”

“You’re the new boss,” he said, his voice friendly with an accent that was slightly different from everyone else’s. She couldn’t put her finger on it.

“I’m Siggi. Sigurður Gunnarsson,” he said. “But everyone calls me Siggi.”

“Siggi.” She smiled back. “Nice to meet you. And what do you do here?”

“A good question. What do I do here?” He looked around, standing tall and towering over the edge of all of the cubicle walls, able to see everything, she imagined, like looking at the top of a labyrinth.

Elsa happened to walk by and said, “The better question is, what doesn’t Siggi do here?” They both shared a laugh, Lydia a bit puzzled.

He turned back and said, “I am sort of, oh, what do you say? A jack of all trades. I do everything here that involves anything technical, computers mostly. But if you need me to rewire something, I can do that. If you need me to network something, I can do that.” His face softened as he seemed to really take her in. “And for you, Ms. Charles, our new boss, if you need anything else, I can do that.”

She inhaled slowly, whistling at the possible inappropriateness of that comment. Not wanting to make too much of it—was this a cultural issue?—because if it were an innocent statement then she would look like a fool. Instead, she turned away from him, her face now able to feel sunlight again as she stepped backwards and pointed to her desk. “Is this my work station?” she asked.

“Yes, it is. We don’t have individual offices here at the Bournham Industries European operations,” he said grandly, his arm outstretched like a game show girl displaying the prizes. His hearty laugh gave her a sense of his intent and she let her guard down. “But we’re doing just fine,” he stressed. “Michael Bournham is invested in us and now, he is clearly invested in you.”

Those eyes, chocolate brown, landed on hers. And now, the prickling skin came back. Either he was coming on to her or, like Miles, he knew. If the staff here knew why she’d been transferred, then her time in Iceland was going to be extremely brief. “I suppose I should talk to human resources about getting some issues settled, like health insurance and my computer access and—”

He cut her off with a palm, almost in her face. “There is no human resources here.”

“Who do I talk to about all those issues?”

He shrugged. “I guess Elsa. I can help you with the tech stuff, but she’s more the one that handles all of that.”


“But she just went out for a pump break, so you’ll—”

“A pump break?”

“You know”—he pointed to her breasts—“pumping.”

Pumping? Was he coming on to her? What was this?

“Elsa has a fifteen-month-old at home and so she still needs to take breaks.” He peered at her intently, as if he were struggling not to have to go into more detail, as if she should understand what he was implying.

Breastfeeding. She felt herself blush. “Oh…pumping,” she whispered under her breath. “I see.”

Maternity and postpartum issues were a whole layer to the corporate world that she knew existed but, because it didn’t touch her yet—because she hadn’t even considered children yet and planned never to have them before thirty-five and her career was established at director or vice-president level—she had been oblivious to the context of his meaning.

“Yes, so Elsa will be back in half an hour, but in the meantime, why don’t I set you up with your tech access?”

He made himself comfortable, taking her chair, leaving her with none. She went to one of the other cubicles and stole a wheeled chair and sat next to him, watching him do his magic. Within five minutes those bear paws had managed to give her an email account and access to the various software packages and internal communications programs that she needed, and then he turned to her with a flourish and said, “Done. Anything more, Ms. Charles?”

“I don’t think so. I know how to access the browser, I know how to access email, I know how to get into Bournham Industries internal communications.”

He said, “Yes, indeed. You have everything you need now.”

The speedy departure of Michael Bournham hit the news about twenty-four hours after he last saw Lydia. It had all started with a phone call from Joanie. “Why haven’t you been answering texts, or emails, or phone calls, or voicemails?” she said testily, her voice angry and completely out of character.

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.