Chapter 1 - Jenna
That was all I could hear. It was like my brain had already shut down trying to protect itself from the words that it somehow knew were coming at it.
I shook my head and tried to focus on what the woman sitting across from me was saying. I think it was something about the history of the law firm and what it involves to be a partner. All things I had thoroughly researched before applying, so luckily I would be safe if she tried to quiz me even if I hadn’t paid attention. Never had a quiz that I didn’t pass. That is where planning and preparedness were critical.
“Jenna, are you listening to me?” Cynthia clasped her hands together and leaned forward on her desk.
“Yes, Cynthia. I am sorry, you were saying?” She totally knew I hadn’t been listening. You don’t get a reputation like the one Cynthia had unless you are able to read people at all times and know exactly what they are thinking before they even do.
Cynthia raised a perfectly arched eyebrow at me, conveying that she knew the truth. She cleared her throat before starting again. “I was saying that as a partner in this law firm, one of my responsibilities is to ensure that the people we bring on permanently are not only the best and the brightest, but that they will be a good fit for the firm and the clients that we work with.”
I sat up a little straighter in my chair and tried to use my most professional voice. “I understand completely. That is exactly why I want to work here. This firm has an excellent reputation. I am hoping that after I start law school, I can move from my current position as an assistant into being an intern. My plan would be to move into an associate position once I have my law degree, and one day I hope to make partner in this firm and be sitting where you are, Cynthia.” I tried to give Cynthia a confident smile but, based on the look she gave me in return, she was not impressed.
“Well, Jenna, that is certainly ambitious. It sounds like you have the next several years of your life planned out.” Cynthia looked directly at me with an unreadable expression. Damn, this woman had a good poker face.
“Yes, I do. I have always had a plan and when I make a plan I stick to it.” I said the last part as confidently as I could while maintaining eye contact with Cynthia. It was only then that I noticed she had moved her hands to the arms of her black leather chair and leaned back away from her desk a bit. Cynthia took a big deep breath in while maintaining eye contact with me the whole time. It was almost like she was a cobra getting into striking position after she had zoomed in on her prey. A late 40’s blonde cobra with a perfectly styled bob and a very expensive designer suit.
I had seen that look on her before. It was usually right before she tore into the opposing attorney or a witness on the stand, and they were left feeling less than two inches tall by the time she was done. Cynthia was known as a vicious, but brilliant, attorney.
Suddenly, I realized it was after 5:00 pm on a Friday and she and I were very likely the only people left in the building. I felt my entire body tense up in an utter panic as my realization continued. That look was for me. I was the prey she was going to strike.
I tried to remain calm on the outside, but inside alarm bells were ringing as I braced for what was to come next. I could feel as beads of perspiration started to pop up on my forehead. My teeth clenched together as I tried to maintain some type of confident-looking smile. In reality, I probably had the same fearful look in my eyes as a small furry animal when it realizes that the cobra is about to eat it for lunch.
“Jenna, I am going to get right to the point. You have been an assistant here for a few months, and frankly, this is just not working.”
“What do you mean ‘this is just not working?’” My voice came out squeaky and laced with panic. I tried to take some deep breaths in through my nose as I fought the rising sense of panic that started to crush my chest.
Cynthia looked at me and sighed. The only thing I could see on her face was a look of absolute annoyance. “Jenna, don’t make this harder than it needs to be. Your employment with this firm has come to an end. I have some paperwork from HR here for you to sign and a box for you to gather your personal belongings in on your way out.”
My mind raced as it tried to absorb what it had just heard. “This can’t be happening! This is where I want to work! Tell me what I have done wrong and I will fix it. This is where I planned my career to be!”
Cynthia drummed her perfectly manicured fingernails on her mahogany desk as she continued to look at me like I was an inconvenience and taking up way too much of her time. “We have determined that you are not a good fit for our firm and the vision that we have moving forward. There is nothing to be fixed. This is just not working and it is time to move on.” Her voice was completely void of any emotion as she broke eye contact to shuffle the stack of papers sitting in front of her. It was her way of showing that she was done and I was dismissed.
I could feel the hot sting of tears behind my eyes. I bit the inside of my cheek as I tried to hold them back. I wasn’t going to cry in front of Cynthia. I wasn’t going to show her anything that could be considered a weakness . . . and crying in the office was on Cynthia’s top ten list of ‘Despicable Signs of Weakness.’
As hard as I tried not to cry, her words made it exceeding difficult. . .'this is just not working and it is time to move on.’
That was the exact same phrase Brett told me six months earlier when he broke my heart to pieces. I had planned on us having the perfect life together. Successful careers, big house, white picket fence, and two brilliant, well-rounded children. He clearly had a different plan in mind.
“Now, there are just a few final things to finish up here and then you can pack your personal belongings and be on your way.” Cyntia pushed the stack of papers and pen across her desk to me.
I was in shock. The rest of what Cynthia had to say went back to the “wah wah wah wah” Charlie Brown teacher's voice. I could feel myself going through the motions of signing the HR forms and turning over my office keys and ID badge, but nothing was registering.
The next thing I realized, I was standing by the front doors clutching my purse and a cardboard box filled with a few pictures in frames and my coffee mug.
“Well, that seems to be everything. Good luck to you, Jenna,” Cynthia said briskly.
I mumbled something back and walked out the door. I stood on the front steps for a few minutes before the tears started to slide down my cheeks. Once they started, I couldn’t stop them and within seconds I was full-on ugly crying on the front steps of the law firm where I had planned on building my career.
Everything in my life was falling apart.