Eric and Daniel had been working together for years, although technically it wasn’t a partnership. Daniel worked for Eric. It was largely agreeable: Eric gave Daniel status, a decent if underwhelming salary; modest benefits, an annual retirement contribution, plus regular flattery in collegial circles, patronizing the younger man’s erudition and clinical skills. Their arrangement was quite satisfactory, despite Eric’s reservations about Daniel’s lack of ambition; Daniel’s suspicion that his long-time employer took him for granted.
Matters changed when trouble emerged over some psychoeducational workshops, the scheduling of which was thrown into disarray because the junior staff Eric had originally slated for the six-month job had just quit, complaining of being underpaid and overworked. Poised to leave for a vacation in Cabo, Eric was scrambling, knowing the workshops were not Daniel’s thing but desperate to avoid a financial hit should he scrap his plans.
“Why don’t you do them?” Daniel asked, treading a line of impertinence as Eric floated the opportunity. Eric stared upwards at the ceiling of his office—a habit Daniel interpreted as a sign of annoyance, perhaps impending panic.
“I could do that,” Eric replied, tugging at his straggly beard, which Daniel interpreted as meaning, fuck that. “I’m going away next week of course, so I couldn’t do the first two weeks.” Daniel frowned. He thought Eric’s trip to Cabo was one week, not two. They always seemed to miscommunicate on such things.
“I guess I could take the first class,” Daniel said, swallowing hard upon this reluctant compromise. Eric brightened, sensing a swift end to this noisome dilemma. “That’ll help out, I think,” Daniel added, insinuating something else.
“You could have the whole job if you wanted. It’s right there. I could just leave it to you, and I think you’d be great for it.”
Daniel noted the way in which Eric spun the workshops as a gift, a job right up his alley, as if Eric had planned them with him in mind all along. He shuffled uneasily, half-plotting a methodical counter.
“Yeah, I don’t know. You say it’s on a Saturday, which is an off day for me, plus a Monday, when I already have other responsibilities.”
“You could change the workshop times if you want. Not the first week or two, but maybe in September—”
“That’s a lot of re-scheduling, Eric. Plus the students for the course wouldn’t appreciate the changes, I’m sure.”
“Well, you could just say that these things happen. Changes occur in life. I’d support you if anyone made a complaint, say it’s on me.”
Daniel paused. “Except that wouldn’t be true, would it? They’d know that changes were the accommodation of my schedule, since I’d be doing the teaching.”
Eric gazed upwards again, his arms fluttering then settling upon his head, pulling back hair. “Hmm, I don’t think so,” he tried to dismiss. He didn’t care for derailing, logical arguments, details. They intrude upon airy principles, the good things that can and should happen if only people had energy, guts, and desire.
“Plus, what about the cost?” Daniel persisted. “At what I assume is my current rate, I’d make a few extra hundred dollars a week, but that would be offset by my losses, because I’d have to cancel my Monday activities.”
“You’d maybe have to re-schedule, I guess. You could use this office if you want, for those other appointments. I’d waive the sublet cost.” At this point Daniel was biting his lip, wanting to say something biting; something about sales tactics. His thoughts turned to late-night cramming: a soldierly effort to rescue Eric’s initiative, his investment, while he sunned himself on a Cabo beach. Daniel pulled out his phone, clicked on its calculator feature.
“Let me just see here. So we’re talking about an extra three classes, over two nights. That’s…let’s see…about four hundred dollars, before taxes. Then defray the cost of losing at least three, maybe four client hours on a Monday.”
“Well, the class is only an hour and a half, so that’s only two hours, right?”
“Yes, but there’s the commute. The class is downtown, isn’t it? A half hour in the opposite direction of my office. So traveling there and back precludes at least two other hours.”
“Okay, I can see that,” Eric replied levelly. He scratched his chin thoughtfully, thinking of his next move, and noting, as ever, that Daniel was not a dull-witted prey. “I’d be willing to increase your fee, depending on the enrollment.”
“Meaning, I’d be responsible for how many students enroll?”
“Well no, the information is on the website. However, if you wanted to do a talk somewhere, or promote the class, that might bring in more students, make you more visible in the community.”
“Would you subsidize that?”
Eric chuckled. “You’d have to be responsible for your own self promotion, of course.”
Daniel gazed into his own head, not wanting to meet Eric’s eyes while he felt a rising ire. “But it’s not self-promotion, is it? It’s a job that someone else doesn’t want to do that you’re offering to me at the eleventh hour.”
Instantly, Daniel felt the stillness of the room, the silence except for the hollow pop of his stomach. Eric’s face clouded over. He stretched as if purging a demon and his gaze circled about Daniel’s frame, as if its center would burn him. Finally, he shrugged and said, “Hmm. I think it’s an opportunity. Anyway, I’m still covering your benefits, even though the premiums are going up.” His voice lowered, as it tended to upon muttered non sequiturs, “…there’s an extra couple of hundred there…for me, but if you don’t want it then…”
“It? Meaning, the opportunity you’re offering?”
“Yes. The opportunity,” Eric stated flatly, his voice suddenly clear, even loud.
“Doesn’t sound like a good deal for me, to be honest.” Daniel shook his ahead, now affecting a forlorn rather than affronted stance; his ire at once subsided into something unclear. For reasons further unclear, he found it hard mustering or rather sustaining anger towards his senior colleague, a man whose intangible gifts and intentions were due a thorough, scrutinizing inventory.
Eric nodded softly while maintaining his steely gaze aimed into Daniel’s head. His look was at once genial and menacing, containing a search for weakness, a patient wait for surrender. Expectation. After another silent gap he stretched his body again and yawned, releasing droplets of a permanently-managed tension. When he sat forward he looked aged, self-pitying. A previously concealed layer of flab now hung off his face as he glanced sideways, looking about his office, the floor: stray items, of books, files, documents–things he wanted others to deal with. He looked up, gave Daniel a bitter-looking smile, and spoke languidly, with near whimsy.
“Well, I may have to hire someone else, I guess. There’s a guy who I met at a meeting who may be interested, says he’s looking for some hours.”
A guy at a meeting? Daniel thought fleetingly. That sounds feeble, he judged, only to then parlay his disdain into a challenge.
“Is that a threat?”
Eric returned a surprised look, his eyes widened yet tired. Finally, he started to flail. “It’s not a threat, but I don’t know what you want me to say. I have an investment, a commitment I’ve made. I need to follow through or else we’ll take a significant loss, which affects everyone here. I need help on this thing. If you don’t want this opportunity, or others I may have in mind, I have to look elsewhere. As for the future, I don’t know. If I find someone who appears energetic and willing, then I may need to make a decision.”
Daniel gritted his teeth, and stifled a gulp. “On my future employment, you mean?” The two men stared at each other. It—what Daniel did—had never been called employment before.
“It’s not my intention to go there. Is this…I don’t know. Are you saying you want to leave?” Eric asked, turning it around.
Daniel didn’t answer at first. He got up, collected his jacket, his notebook, his thoughts, which now swirled upon peripheral and then center stage ideas. History. He tends not leave like this, he realized. That’s what others do, or did. He tends not to notice change until it’s upon him. Relationships: they don’t end.
“I don’t know,” he replied, matching Eric’s nonplussed air. “I’ll talk to you later. Maybe it’ll be different then.” He turned his back, stepped out onto a hallway leading to a waiting area, there to see one of Eric’s regular clients, a man who nods amiably at Daniel but otherwise says nothing whenever they pass each other. The man was the only point of normalcy as Daniel walked past. The room looked darker like it was closing in on him, while the light from outside shone through a doorway carelessly left open.