It was meant to be an informal meeting, just to determine who had sexually harassed who, or even if such an event had occurred.
Sheryll, standing before a bank of buttons in the elevator, believed she had no reason to be nervous, so she impatiently pushed the nagging doubts from her mind. She wore a sleek black pencil skirt and perfectly tailored cashmere powder blue jacket. The HR boss, Carley Spoon, was a busy woman, no nonsense, and unlikely to let the dispute ramble on for long. It was a sensitive area, of course. Jimmy was handsome and charming. Sheryll was polished and attractive. She had worked at the station longer than he, and had a spotless reputation. So, she told herself sternly, nothing to worry about.
She realized she hadn’t pressed any floor buttons. She jabbed at 9 and felt the jolt of the elevator raising her up, leaving most of her stomach behind.
Jimmy was already there, sitting in one of the chrome and leather chairs set in a semi-circle in front of Carley’s desk. As was Carley’s assistant Terry, and another red-headed young woman who Sheryll didn’t recognize; but there was no sign of the HR manager yet. Sheryll glanced at her watch. She was a few minutes early.
She jumped when she felt a hand on her shoulder, and spun around.
“Hey, sorry, stay cool.” It was Molly from the art department. She was slim, dark and exotic, and most of all, ambitious. She took the attitude of acting the part of the position she hoped to attain. “I just thought I would sit in,” she said with a smile.
“Sit in?” said Sheryll.
“Yes, taking a course in Human Resources. Two nights a week.” She reached a around Sheryll to peek the office. “Nice digs!” she said.
“What?” Sheryll said, irritated, as Carley appeared from nowhere with a file folder. She beckoned Sheryll inside with a flourish of her hand, and Molly trailed in after her.
Sheryll heard Molly greet Carley Spoon with a boisterous Hi, How are you? as if they were old chums who had missed each other since last meeting. Carley didn’t answer and the room took on an awkward air.
Instead of taking a seat in the plush leather seat behind the desk, Carley perched herself on the front corner of the desk. This said: I expect this to be brief.
Terry quietly closed the door, and setting a small brushed nickel device in the center of the desktop, said, “We’re gonna record this.”
Jimmy’s chair was farthest from the door, and slightly separate from the other four chairs, which formed a cluster near the desk. As Carley went over some basics (introducing everyone and establishing basic rules), Sheryll discreetly peeked at the young man. He sat confidently, legs stretched in front of him, looking slightly surly, slightly arrogant, like a recalcitrant student at the principal’s office. He wore khaki shorts, a black t-shirt and a grey fleece jacket, perhaps feeling confident enough that he need not dress up, as Sheryll had. He was a tall man, with natural broad shoulders and the healthy glow of someone who spent a lot of time outdoors. His slightly mussed, curly hair was tied in a small pony tail at the back. Diffused sunlight streamed in, penetrating the sheer drapes on the window, and glinted like sparks of gold in the fine, blond hair of his legs and thighs.
Carley first asked Sheryll about her position and and asked her to recount what had happened that Friday afternoon. Sheryll leaned forward and spoke to the recorder on the desk. “I’m Media/Resources Manager,” she said. Carley looked at her watch.
“I went into the DVD storage library to pick something up,” she began.
“What time was this?” asked Carley politely.
“I guess around three o’clock.” She had been late back from a three-glasses of wine lunch with Tony, her best friend who was in town for the afternoon. She planned to pack some docs and DVDs into her briefcase and work on the project later, at home, after a nice long nap, or tomorrow, maybe.
“Jimmy was in there, in the corner with an order pack, picking out cuts and so on, so I went over and said hello.”
Carley was absently reading something in the file folder. “What exactly was said?”
“I believe I asked him how he was enjoying the job, or words to that effect.”
“How long have you been an intern here, Jimmy?” Carley asked.
“Three months,” he replied.
“How did you answer Ms Ross?”
“I was polite, just said it’s going good.”
“Then I just—“ Sheryll began, but was interrupted.
“Then she moved in close,” Jimmy said. “She pressed up against me and her … chest rubbed on mine.”
“Oh,” said Carley. “Is that what happened, Sheryll?”
“Then,” Jimmy interrupted again, “she brushed the back of her hand against the front of my pants.” He was scowling, now, not looking at Sheryll or anyone in the room.
Carley crossed her legs. They were plump but shapely.
“Do you mean your penis area?” Carley asked.
The room was airless. Jimmy’s cheeks grew rosier. He nodded.
“That’s a yes?”
“And so, Jimmy,” Carley continued. “Were you aroused by this?”
“What?” he said, sitting up straighter.
“What were you wearing that afternoon, Jimmy? Something similar to today’s outfit?” Carley asked.
“Whatever,” he said. “Yes, shorts and a t-shirt.”
“Short shorts, like what you have on now.”
Sheryll glanced at Jimmy, who still stared fiercely at something invisible near the potted fig tree on the other side of the door.
“Did you touch Ms Ross, Jimmy?”
“I pushed her back a little.”
“Where did you touch her?”
Jimmy paused. “Sort of on the hip.” he said.
“I see. Then what?”
“You left.” She transferred her steady, inscrutable gaze to Sheryll. “Sheryll?”
“As I recall,” said Sheryll, “I left the room first, went back to my office.”
“Did you rub on him?” Molly blurted out.
“Molly.” Carley’s voice, cold and fierce.
“Sorry,” said Molly.
“As I remember it,” Sheryll said carefully, “we said hello and he was very friendly, and put his hand on my waist. It was a little uncomfortable, but no big deal, so I left.
“Well,” said Carley after a pause, closing the file and placing it on the desk beside her. “A clear miscommunication, that’s all.” She shrugged.
“No miscommunication,” Jimmy said.
“I think you appreciate, Jimmy, that this is a ‘he said, she said’ situation,” Carley said patiently. “First, you certainly give off the vibe of someone very interested in action, from the way you dress to the way you speak and look at the women in this office.”
Jimmy rallied as if to speak. “I’m not finished,” said Carley. “In fact, you, Jimmy, have somewhat of a reputation around the sixth floor.” She paused. “Sheryll has been with us over six years, with nothing even remotely like this coming to light. You are young and young men sometimes have inappropriate urges. Let’s leave it at that. You won’t lose your job, but there will be a six week probationary period where we will watch you very closely.”
“You have to be fucking kidding me,” Jimmy said.
“I’m not fucking kidding you,” Carley said.
Jimmy stood up, tore off his grey hoodie and threw it on the ground. Carley rolled her eyes. “Are you finished with your manly display?” she said, looking at Terry, who stood up and went to door. He opened it wide and the sounds of a busy office filtered back into the room.
Carley picked up the recording device, and then put it back on the desk. She stood up. “We’ll move you to another department, of course,” she said to Jimmy.
“We need an intern in Art,” Molly volunteered.
“The fuck you will,” Jimmy said. “I quit.”
“Let’s say you’re fired, and call it a draw,” said Carley.
Enraged, Jimmy strode to the door. He turned to Sheryll. Alarmed, she pressed against the back of the chair.
“And fuck YOU,” he said, jabbing a finger in the air. He stormed out.
Carley turned to Sheryll. “God, men have such tempers. I don’t know how they function.”