Chapter 1


"Liv, are you going to remember a brother when you come into your kingdom?" Harrison chided at the cafeteria table.

"Yeah, Liv, are we going to like, still be down when you become, like the man?" Charmaine said, in her best valley girl accent while flipping her shoulder length dreadlocks.

"You both need to stop with your jokes!" she said. "The bid results are not posted yet so until I see Quality Control Manager behind my name, I'm still a line operator."

"But we both know you will get the promotion. You jumped through all their hoops and you practically write the schedules now. Liv, today is your day. The world is your lobster or is it oyster?" Harrison said.

Olivia smiled broadly, finally allowing herself to imagine being a winner at life. She'd been working at Meharry's for 5 years, having secured this light industrial job as a temporary worker during a low time in her life. She had been a newly minted single parent, out of work, and seemingly out of luck, when she'd gotten the call to start at Meharry's on Monday. That had been the beginning of some stability in her life. Hindsight is 20-20. Olivia now saw clearly what her mother had lectured her repeatedly as a child and subsequently as a teenager, "Keep your head down, your legs closed, and your eyes open." Olivia had failed on all three accounts. As a good looking teenager, her head had been in the clouds as she was more interested in popularity and ostentation. She hadn't broken the closed legs admonition until senior year, but on that second bumbling sexual encounter she'd gotten pregnant with her son, Gabriel, now 7 years old. Had she really had her eyes open, she would have seen that it was a mistake to get involved with him. Her sperm donor, as she called Gabriel's father, initially tried to take responsibility for his contribution of 23 chromosomes. However, when the college recruiters came knocking to woo him to college on a football scholarship, Sean had left Baltimore and his pregnant ex-girlfriend alone to fend for herself.

All those details were now slightly distant memories. Olivia was relatively independent, still needing to depend on her mother for help with Gabriel. However, she was finally moving up in the world as indicated by this promotion.

"It's almost 12:15. Harrison, Charmaine...I'm nervous," said Olivia.

"Girl, don't be scared. It's in the bag," said Charmaine, as they left the cafeteria table to discard their lunch waste.

"You are right. It's not like this is a job to cure cancer or anything. I'll just be in charge of inspecting those colorful surgical specialty products we've been sealing in that impenetrable plastic and packing into boxes for years now," Olivia said trying to calm herself.

"But now when we see you as the big QCM, it'll strike fear into our little worker bee hearts," joked Harrison.

Olivia, Charmaine, and Harrison walked out of Meharry's large employee cafeteria and down the long corridor. The bid results were posted inside the break room on the bulletin board. As they approached, others were coming toward them looking at Olivia. She brushed it off and continued walking forward to what she knew was her chance to succeed, to win at life.

As they entered the room, there were a number of people there looking at the results. Olivia walked to the posting and used her finger to peruse the list. She saw the column for the new Quality Control Managers and almost missed the fact that her name wasn't listed there in her department. Instead the name, Thomas Grant, was written. It would have been an understatement to say that Olivia was disappointed. Mostly, she was angry. After receiving the unfortunate news, she turned on her heel and walked out of the room. Harrison and Charmaine looked from Olivia to the posting. When they saw what she had seen they went after her to offer comfort.

By the time, the day was over, Olivia felt a little better after her friends had done their best to encourage her. Everyone was surprised. Thomas Grant, the new guy who was horrible on the machines, got the job. He had recently begun working at Meharry's and hadn't made a good impression, especially not enough to warrant a promotion so early. As Olivia walked to her car, she was lost in her own unfortunate thoughts about what she knew was a slight by the powers that be at Meharry's.

"Olivia. Olivia. Olivia, do you have a minute?" a male voice called.

Olivia stopped when his voice finally registered in her mind, pulling her out of her thoughts. She was loathed to talk to him, especially today when she had just gotten the news. But she stopped and turned to face him, her car in sight.

"Yeah," she said. She kept her face stoic.

He moved closer. She moved back. "I just wanted to say that I thought you should have gotten the job. I put the bid in, yes, but I never thought I'd get it since I haven't been here long especially in comparison to you. I wanted to-"

What he probably intended as an apology of sorts, made her all the more angry.

"Apologize? Apologize for what? This happens every day in America," she said. "Some qualified black person and in my case a qualified black woman is passed up for a promotion and some white person, less qualified, gets the job because they got the inside white track. That's what this is. Anyway, why you even working here? You don't fit. Shouldn't you be somebody's CEO. But it don't matter, they gave you the job," Olivia said. "No, I ain't accepting your sorry ass apology." She deliberately slipped into her best caricature of the angry black woman and then walked away in a huff. He reached out and pulled her back.

"What the hell?" she said. He nearly dragged her over to a secluded area between two cars.

"I'm sorry, but please listen. I'm not just a worker at Meharry's and my name is not Thomas. I'm Fitzgerald Grant, an investigative reporter. I'm working undercover for a story about Meharry's discriminatory personnel practices. Would you be willing to answer some questions and give me more information about your time at Meharry's?" he asked.

Olivia looked at him in total disbelief. She snatched away from him. "What? You're a reporter? How can I be sure that you aren't from the company trying to feel me out to see if I'm going to cause trouble?"

"Believe me Olivia, they wouldn't do that for just one employee. They have no idea that anyone is scrutinizing them. I know you are disgusted with them right now. But look at the upside. You can stick it to them by exposing their years of institutional racism," he said.

Olivia considered his words. "So that is why you were so crappy on the production line. You couldn't keep up with the machine to save your life," she said with a grin. "I'd love to stick it to all those white men on the board of directors, no offense toward your obvious whiteness."

"None taken. So are you in?" he asked, hopeful that she'd say yes for more reasons than one. He needed this story since he knew it would make the first page. And over the weeks he's been undercover, he couldn't resist his attraction to her. He was interested and wanted to get to know her.

Olivia inhaled a deep breath and made her decision. "Well, what do I have to lose aside from my job and it doesn't look like that is going to get better anytime soon. So I guess I am accepting your proposal."

"Great," he said extending his hand. Olivia took his hand and they shook on it to seal the deal. Before he let go, he asked another question.

"How about dinner? I know a great Italian place not to far from here," he said trying to sound casual.

"You mean like a date?" A deep scowl formed on her face.

"Yes." He countered with a broad smile.

Olivia pulled back her hand. "That's where you are out of luck, Fitzgerald. I don't date white men."

She left him with that comment and walked to her car.

He watched her walk away, admiring the way she moved. "Hey, Olivia. I didn't get your phone number." He cursed himself for not getting it as soon as she agreed.

Olivia froze for a second at her door. She eased into her car and slammed the door. He watched her crank up her Passat and back out.

She cruised up beside him and lowered her window. "I thought reporters knew how to find stuff out," she said to him through the glass. "Plus, you are a white man. Aren't things already easy enough for you?"

"Touché," he said when she drove off and left him standing there, grinning.

Dear Penpals,

This story used to be, "The Upside of Disgust." I am going to have fun with this one.