By Portia Bennett
Introduction: Adam is beginning to learn about the vagaries of business. Last in, first out: he is being laid off due to the downturn in business. That's the bad news. Less bad is that they have an opening available in a small satellite office in Hartford, CT, the 'Insurance Capital of America'. Adam is going to move, and Phantom will come with him, of course.
This is another story in the Cynthia Chronicles series. Other stories in the series are An Incremental Journey, Cynthia and the Reluctant Girlfriend, Cynthia and the Dumpster Diver, Cynthia and the Moment of Truth, Cynthia and the High School Years - Part I, Cynthia and the High School Years - Part II, Charli and the Girl Cave, Bobbie and the Glass Ceiling; and Randi and the College Professor,. The time frame of this story takes place about three to four years after Charli and the Girl Cave. If you haven't read the stories before, it might be a good idea to go back and start at the beginning.
Once again Holly H. Hart has willingly provided her invaluable help in proofing and straightening out my poor English. Thank you so much, Holly.
This work is copyrighted by the author and any publication or distribution without the written consent of the author is strictly prohibited. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the characters to persons living or dead is coincidental.
Adam awoke the next morning to find Phantom sound asleep and curled up against his belly. He had put him in his bed the night before, but that lasted less than a minute.
"Fleas, dammit, I forgot about fleas. That's last thing we need is to have a bunch of fleas in this place. Let's have a look at you." He sat on the edge of the bed, and placed Phantom on his lap on his back. Phantom didn't struggle a bit. "I certainly don't see any signs of any. Somebody must have been taking care of you. How did you get here? Somebody has to be looking for you.
"I hope you can stay out of trouble. I have to go to work. I'll start working on finding out who lost you tonight. You have plenty of food and water. I'll see you tonight."
The streets varied from dry to sheets of ice, but once he got on the freeway the road surface was dry. The road crews had done an excellent job. He arrived several minutes early, and the office was mostly empty. Of course Bev was there. He seldom got there before she did. His boss, Davis Roberson, was behind closed doors with the HR Director. He could see them behind the glass window.
He was going through his queue of assignments when Davis approached the Loss Control sector of the office. "Guys, we need to meet in my office in fifteen minutes. I have some announcements to make."
"This isn't going to be good, troops," Bev said quietly as Davis returned to his office. "Davis was on the phone a couple of times last week with the home office. There are changes afoot. I don't think this is going to be good."
They made their way to Davis's office at the appointed time. Davis had his never empty cup of coffee as did Bev. Larry Zimmerman and Don Ferguson brought their usual notebooks.
"First of all, I got a nice email from underwriting about Adam's work last week. They were especially pleased about your report on the health food store."
'What the fuck,' Adam thought, 'I didn't do a report on any health food store. It was that crazy specialty shop. This doesn't make any sense at all.'
"This is a major account that we've been trying to get for years. Adam's report provided a lot of the information they'd been looking for. Of, course, Bev's report on their corporate office helped, too.
"Now, on to some other things; business being as down as it is, is requiring some major changes. As you know, the Oklahoma City office is being changed from a regional office to a satellite of the Dallas office. There have already been a number of personnel changes there. Unfortunately, personnel changes are going to affect us in the home office as well, and those changes are reaching us in Loss Control. I'll need to talk to each of you privately about how this affects you."
Adam awaited his turn to go into the office with some dread. He was the junior person in the office, and if there were going to be any personnel changes, they would probably start at the bottom. He knew Bev was immune. She was the corporate memory for loss control, and had been around longer than just about anyone, even longer than Davis. Rumor had it that she had turned down the Loss Control Manager position several times.
Zimmerman went in first. When he returned to his desk, Adam couldn't read any expression that would indicate bad news. Zimmerman picked up his clipboard, and headed out for a survey. Ferguson was next, and the results were about the same. Then it was his turn. He knew what was coming. At least he thought he did. He was going to get canned. He had very little money saved up, and was just now eligible to participate in the company's 401K plan.
"Adam, I'm going to cut to the chase. We've lost a position for a loss control consultant. To put it bluntly, you're being laid off, and there's nothing I can do about it. This is effective as of the end of the month, though.
"I'm very pleased with your performance here, and Bev says you're the best new consultant she's ever worked with. You will get one month's pay for every year you've worked here. Since you've been here less than a year, the company will give you the full month, anyway.
"Something has come up that you might want to consider as an alternative. Our Connecticut office is losing both consultants. Pierce Osborne is retiring, and the other consultant is leaving for greener pastures. You would have to move yourself, being single I don't imagine that you would have much to move; however, if you would be okay with making the move, I'll let them know, and they will keep the position open for you. Of course you'd be able to keep the car."
The wheels were spinning in Adam's head. He had to have a job. He needed to save his money for the inevitable. Well that was the trouble. It wasn't inevitable. He didn't want to stay the way he was. His company had a good health plan, and the way things were going in the more progressive companies, gender confirmation surgery just might be covered one of these days. God! One of these days he was going to have to come out. He couldn't even afford to buy garments for dressing in private. It was all in his head, and that was another problem. He was going to have to find a shrink. There was just too much money involved.
"I'll take the job."
"Would you like to take some time to think about it?"
"I already have. Like you said, I don't have much choice here. Maybe it would be a good time to get a little further away from home and expand my horizons a bit. This might be just the thing.
"You said Connecticut; the office is in Hartford isn't it. How are living expenses up there?"
"I imagine they're higher than here. That office is a satellite to the Boston Regional office. I'll contact them and see if there is anyone they can put you in touch with."
So began the beginning of the end of Adam's job in St. Louis.
Phantom was waiting for him when he got home. Everything looked fine in his little apartment. Phantom had not destroyed the place. Adam poured a nice glass of pinot noir and tried to decide what to have for dinner. He was not in the mood for much as his appetite had been a bit dulled by the morning's announcements. He just hoped that it would work out.
"Phantom, you are to be commended for not tearing things up. Hopefully, you were able to find enough to keep you amused." Adam headed to the bathroom to take care of things and freshen up.
"What the fuck!"
Piled neatly in the center of his bed was a collection of items mostly from the top of his dresser. On top was the golf ball Phantom had been playing with the evening before.
Phantom grappled his way up the side of bedspread to examine the fruits of his endeavors. "Brrup?"
"How did you get this stuff up here? I know you could have carried some of it, but there's no way you could have manhandled that golf ball up here. You're too small." Adam picked him up and looked into Phantom's golden eyes. Phantom blinked, 'Am I in trouble? I get bored.'
"I imagine I'm going to have to get you some toys. I might do that tomorrow. There's a big pet store close by, and they might have exactly what we need to keep you out of trouble."
Somehow, Adam got Phantom to sit still long enough to take several pictures. He easily created a poster with the typical headline, "Found Lost Kitten". He made a couple dozen, and spent a half hour after dinner putting them up in the neighborhood. They went on the bulletin board at his complex's laundry room and the laundry rooms of several other complexes in the neighborhood. The rest of the signs were stapled over the previous week's and month's garage sale signs that should have been removed from various utility poles weeks before. Adam realized he was hoping that he received no responses.
Adam returned to find the golf ball back on the bed. "I think you are hinting at something." They spent the next half hour playing with the golf ball. Adam would roll it across the carpet, and Phantom would chase it, capture and release it several times before batting it back to Adams feet. Finally worn out, Phantom allowed Adam to pick him up. Whereupon, he curled up and went sound asleep as Adam settled in to research some of his favorite sites.
There was a new series of photographs on his favorite site. The series featured a young, obviously natural redhead. Her figure was a bit more slender than he liked; however, she was just fine. Her breasts were probably a small C, just enough to give them good definition. They settled in beautifully, and a couple of poses where she leaned forward brought tears to his eyes. She was darn near perfect now that he considered it. Then he flashed on the gorgeous redhead he had met a few days before. She was a much larger woman in most ways, but the girl pictured definitely reminded him of her. What was her name? Oh yes, Bobbie Schmedlap; how could he forget.
He did a quick search of her name and got a number of hits immediately: All American Golfer at Wake Forest, National Women's Amateur Champion, amateur winner of two LPGA tournaments, and bathing beauty. The latter stunned him. The picture of her and her friend, the blonde beauty, had to have been taken several years previously, but there they were in all their glory wearing skimpy bikinis that left little to the imagination. Now he remembered, he had seen her picture on a golf magazine that his dad subscribed to. There was the picture along with a picture of her and her friend on the cover of Sports Illustrated. What were they doing in that crazy store that no one seemed to think that it was what he had reported on? The more that he thought about it, the more he was leaning towards the conclusion that he was either hallucinating or having a serious mental breakdown or both. Besides, the old fellow didn't quite fit the description he was used to reading about.
But it had to be real, and the clincher was the blonde girl, Cindy Lewis. He had seen Bobbie Schmedlap's picture before. He knew that now, however, he had never seen anything about Cindy Lewis. How could he be hallucinating about someone who really existed, but had never seen before?
"Brrup?" Phantom had awakened and was now standing on Adam's lap while peering at the computer screen. He hopped up next to the keyboard, and gently patted at the images of Bobbie and Cindy. Then he turned and gave Adam the first real meow that he could recall having heard Phantom utter.
If Adam had expected any responses to his posters, he certainly didn't get any. He did get one call asking about a Siamese cat. Adam assured the woman that this cat was definitely not Siamese, nor was it a cat. It was a kitten.
He gave the manager thirty days notice that he would be leaving, and at the same time plunked down a fifty dollar pet deposit. Fortunately, other than his clothing, bed linens and some kitchen items, there wasn't very much to pack. He was going to have to find a place to live as soon as he got there, though. Maybe there was an extended stay motel that would let him keep a pet. He was pretty certain by this time that Phantom would be going with him.
They gave him a little farewell sendoff before he faded into the 'used to work here' status. Davis told him to take all the time he wanted to get ready to go, and all his assignments, what there was of them, had been given to the other three consultants. Bev gave him a hug, and he could swear there was a tear in her eye. "Hang in there, kid. Things are going to work out just fine." That was a bit strange, because Bev hardly ever got emotional about anything except bowling and golf. He'd been teamed with her during a company picnic, and they had won. She had taken up the sport fairly recently, according to her, and she seemed to be pretty good at it for a beginner.
Fortunately, the company car he had was a medium sized sedan, and he was able to get most of his important belongings in it. His mom and dad came over to help him pack and say goodbye. He was going to be quite a bit further away than the easy half day journey it had been. It was going be a tough two day drive to Hartford, and the more he thought about it, when he visited Kansas City, he would probably fly rather than drive. His folks were going to take the borrowed furniture back with them; however, the bulk of the furniture was rented, and the rental company would come by and pick it up after he left.
The most valuable items he had to transport were his personal PC and printer, his television, and the company owned laptop. Actually, he was beginning to realize that he had formed quite an attachment to his little cat that had noticeably grown over the last few weeks. Their mutual attraction had become very strong. Adam had felt that Phantom was going to be rather long haired, and his assumption was proving to be correct.
Phantom's scratching post, which he seemed to adapt to very quickly, was placed upside-down in the back seat. The litter box was placed on a spread of newspapers on the floor of the rear seat. And as they put the final items in his trunk, there was actually a bit more room than Adam had expected.
He hugged his parents goodbye, then watched as their SUV and U-Haul trailer pulled out of the parking lot. It was going to be a long day. Fortunately, it was a weekend; however, the traffic on I-44 was a bit heavy, and the never ending construction projects always made things difficult. He picked up I-70, and while figuratively, but almost actually holding his breath, made it through East St. Louis without a problem. St. Louis and his first job were fading away in his rearview mirror. His favorite radio station was going to stay with him for a while before he would have to search for the next NPR or classical music station. He had a feeling that the next one wouldn't come until he neared Indianapolis. Unfortunately, that assumption proved to be unwarranted as Indianapolis did not have a classical music station. Fortunately, he had some good CDs queued up in the car's entertainment system. They should last for a while.
It had been about 80 miles outside of Indianapolis when he had determined that he would have to rely on his CDs. It was getting close to lunch time, but he wanted to be on the other side of Indianapolis before he stopped for lunch. He looked back to see how Phantom was doing. There was a pet carrier that Phantom was not overly pleased with. His first introduction to it had been when he had been thrust into it to go to the veterinarian for a checkup and shots. No wonder he didn't like it. The vet pronounced him in perfect health, and gave Phantom his first series of shots. He suggested neutering; however, Adam wasn't sure it was time. He knew why it was recommended that most pets be neutered; however, he was having some lingering thoughts about it for some reason.
The door to the pet carrier was open, and Phantom was curled up fast asleep on top of some of the bedding that was on the seat. It had been a bit of a test. If Phantom protested too much about travel in the car or moved around a lot, he would have to be placed in the carrier. It was apparent, though, that he was not having any issues with traveling.
Lunch on the far side of Indianapolis was uneventful. The weather was cool and Adam cracked the window a bit as he left the car in the shade of a tree that was still in the process of leafing out. When he returned, Phantom was sitting on top of the passenger side head rest, and there was evidence in the air that he had used the box. After some quick maintenance, they hit the road for Columbus.
"Well, fella, we still have a day and a half of this travel, and then we have to find a place to live. Do you think you can make it?"
Make it they did. Bev, who was from a city near Hartford, had recommended a pet friendly motel, and Adam found it without a problem. Phantom explored every nook and cranny before he gave his reluctant approval by using his liter box that Adam placed under the counter in the dressing area located outside the small bathroom. A nice Italian restaurant a few blocks away served a surprisingly good dinner, and Adam returned with a couple of pieces of calamari that Phantom devoured in spite of having had a pretty large dinner just a couple of hours before.
Phantom was growing like a weed, and was probably around twelve to fifteen weeks old, and Adam had determined that Phantom was probably going to be a very large cat. His feet had been relatively large when had first shown up, and he didn't seem any closer to growing into them than he had weeks before. Adam realized that Phantom needed quite a bit more room to grow up in, and he had the feeling that Phantom yearned to be outdoors and learn to hunt. At their previous home he had watched Phantom watching birds. Phantom would become almost rigid as he watched. The tip of his tail would twitch, and his jaw would quiver while he uttered little mewling noises. Maybe they could find a place where Phantom could get some outdoor time.
He reported in to his office his second day in town. Going from the corporate offices to a tiny satellite office was quite a shock. There were three claims representatives, a marketing rep, two administrative specialists, the office manager, and an empty desk for Adam. There was no receptionist; only the electronic answering machine that people yelled at because it could put the caller into an endless electronic loop.
"That's your desk over there," Greg Smackover said as he showed Adam around the tiny office located in a strip mall in West Hartford. "As you know, you don't report to me. You belong to Tom Dillon in Boston. I don't know if you've talked to him or not, but I think he's expecting you to go over there next week.
"Off the record, I'm not sure why you decided to come here. I don't think this office is going to be around very long. We're a small satellite office, and the rumor mill has it that they will be shutting us down shortly. They don't need us. The claims reps, marketing, and loss control, for that matter can work out of their homes. Hell, I'm going to retire in a couple of years."
Adam looked at the office manager who was obviously only in his 50's. "You look too young to retire."
"I got into the 401K very early, and have maxed my contribution from the beginning. Their matching program is great, and it's all preferred stock. I've distributed my contribution among several indexed funds, and in spite of the ups and downs of the market, they are doing very well. My dividends are greater than my salary. I'll retire at 59, collect my retirement from 'Old Muddy', collect my 401K distribution, and collect social security, if it's still around when I reach 68. We're going to move back home to the Willamette Valley, and enjoy life and the grandchildren.
"Speaking of life, do you have a girlfriend?"
"No, had one for a while in college, but no one lately."
"Well, there are some pretty good 'meat markets' in town. The UConn girls come into town on the weekends. There is a lot to do for a good looking guy like you."
"Well, uh, thanks, I'll have to take a look around."
"I got the list of apartments Bev asked me to get for you. We did some of our early training at the same time. How is she anyway? I suppose you know she's a lesbian. She never talked about it, her private life, but we were pretty sure that was the way it was. I guess it's okay."
"Bev's fine. She was a great instructor and mentor. I think I'll miss her."
It took only a short while for Adam to get things set up. He had his computer logged into the system in a matter of minutes. There were a few messages: one from Tom Dillon telling him to come to Boston the next Monday for orientation, and one from Bev asking how things were going. He wrote her back saying that he was going to look for an apartment that afternoon. He was fine, and Phantom was fine. He thought the area around Hartford was quite a bit prettier than St. Louis.
He checked his queue and found he had a couple of assignments. Nothing that looked very exciting. Heck, he didn't have a clue about how to get around in Connecticut. He'd have to get an atlas, and rely heavily on the internet map services. From what he'd seen so far, there probably wasn't a straight road in the state.
Boston! He'd have to call, better make that email, Jim Matthews, and tell him that he'd arrived in Hartford. He had called Jim a few weeks before to tell him that he was going to be in his neck of the woods. Jim had been glad to hear from him, but the background noise indicated there were problems in Bean Town.
"Who are you talking to," was the shrill voice in the background. Adam had no trouble recognizing the voice of April Dawn, Jim's wife.
"It's Adam. He's moving to Hartford."
"Well, you tell that queer that he's not welcome around here. I'll not have you spending any time with an ungodly heathen like that."
Adam heard a door slam before Jim started talking again.
"God, she's getting worse and worse. Adam, I'd love to see you; however, coming around here is a no go. We'll have to get together for a few drinks. I have business in Hartford every once in a while, so we could probably meet for dinner around there. I'd love to catch up on things. Probably the best thing to do is email me at the office. You have the address. Shit, she's coming back. I'll talk to you later." Jim hung up the phone.
'Jesus, what did he ever see in her? Damn, she's good looking, but she's as cold as winter's supposed to be around here. There's no explaining it.'
Adam spent the afternoon looking for an apartment in the West Hartford area. There first two were rather plain vanilla and had absolutely no ambience. The third apartment complex was a lot smaller than the previous two. It was situated on a small cul de sac, and backed up to some woods surrounding a nice residential area. There were eight individual buildings. Each was a semi-attached duplex, and the eight buildings were built around a tree lined parking area. The live-in manager was sitting on a settee on the shaded porch. A very pretty young girl was sitting next to her on the settee. Between them on the cushion had to be the largest cat Adam had ever seen.
"You must be Mr. Grunewald. Welcome to Shady Grove. I'm Esmeralda Mather, and this is my niece, Charli and her cat, Willie. They're visiting from Bridgeport."
"Charli is short for Charlene. Charli is spelled C-H-A-R-L-I. You may call me Charlene or Charli. I like both names a lot. Are you going to bring Phantom? Willie wants to see him. Willie's his ...."
"Charli, this is not the time to bother Mr. Grunewald about that. Why don't you take Willie and see if you can find some rats down by the woodpile. Mr. Augustus said he thought saw some signs of them down there." Esmeralda turned to Adam.
"She's a precocious child. Insists she's going to be a veterinarian. I wouldn't doubt it for a second.
"Let's take a look at that unit. It's in the next building. At one time, these were part of a school. The school is long gone, but these little duplexes remain. They were intended for the school staff.
Esmeralda, for some reason he felt very comfortable with calling her that, led him into the entry of a very pleasant two story town home. There was a small porch identical to each of the other units. The entry opened to a narrow hall and stairway to the second floor. Most of the interior was paneled in hardwood. Adam thought it was walnut be he wasn't sure. The hall continued to a door at the rear. On the left was an entrance to a parlor that shared the space with a dining area. From there it opened into a very nicely appointed kitchen. There was a powder room under the stair, and next to that was a small laundry area and utility closet that were easily closed off from the rest of the downstairs. The rear of the kitchen expanded into a breakfast nook, and there was a nice built in desk area, perfect for an in home office. The glass paneled cabinets were perfect.
Upstairs there were two bedrooms that shared a bath. The front bedroom was obviously the master bedroom. It had a large closet, and there was a king-size bed against the outside of the closet wall. The furnishings were in step with what was downstairs. They were what was called Eastlake design. The whole house had a pleasantly feminine appeal to it, and Adam loved it.
"I didn't realize these units were furnished. I have a feeling that this is going to be considerably more than I can afford."
Esmeralda quoted him a price, that although was a couple of hundred dollars above what he had been paying in St. Louis, he felt that it was well in range of his budget.
"There's no problem with pets, is there? I have a young kitten. Your niece seemed to know about him. I don't remember telling you his name."
"Oh, pets are fine. We have a part time maintenance man, and he can install a pet door if you would like. We don't have any problems with cats that like to be outdoor cats around here. The area is perfect for them. It's good training."
"I like this very much. When would it be available for move in?"
"Right now, if you would like, we had it cleaned this morning."
They were interrupted by a woman's voice from downstairs. "Esmeralda, are you up there?"
"Yes, Evelyn, I'm with Mr. Grunewald. We'll be right down." They made their way down the stairs to greet a woman who looked like she could be Esmeralda's sister. And, that was exactly who she was."
"Evelyn, I would like you to meet Mr. Adam Grunewald. I think he might be moving in with us for a while. He has a cat named Phantom. I told him that Phantom would be welcome here.
"Mr. Grunewald, this is my sister, Evelyn Alden. She is visiting from Massachusetts."
"Ah, Mr. Grunewald, we've heard so much about you." Esmeralda gave her a dark stare. "I mean, we knew you might be coming by to see the place. It's nice isn't it?"
"I like it very much. Ms. Mather, when do you think I could move in? I'm fine with the rent. This is convenient to my office and the Interstates. It's perfect as far as I'm concerned."
Hardly started in the insurance industry, Adam has found out what it means to be the junior employee. He is vulnerable. He realizes that he is very lucky to have been able to stay with his company, although it has meant moving many miles away from the area he was used to. So what's next? He moves into a home that is almost too nice. He and Jim get to have some time away from Jim's harridan wife. Life goes on with all its uncertainties.
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