Summary: Jake's promotion at the bank causes him heartache. "Jake's Dilemma" inspired this very short story.
Disclaimer: What About Joan characters belong to their creators. No copyright infringement intended. No profit is being made.
Author: Tracy Diane Miller
Jake Evans hated Wednesdays, but it wasn't always that way. There was a time when Jake loved Wednesdays; well, maybe love was too strong a word. Wednesdays were...Wednesdays were like a much-needed shot of adrenaline. The first two days of the week always seemed to be the most difficult for the young investment banker. How often had he remembered putting together some of the highest risk investments on a Monday or Tuesday, investments that would yield the greatest return? Yet, these investments also appeared to dangle precariously on an invisible thread where one miscalculation could very easily make a pauper out of one of Chicago's financial princes. And he'd be the one to incur the boss' wrath; it would be his head on the proverbial block waiting to be chopped off. He was cursed by the desire for perfection and would worry that one failure would be the domino that would produce a mass exodus of clients from the bank. He couldn't eat. He couldn't sleep. And always at the eleventh hour it seemed that his fears would prove unfounded. The deal that he had agonized over, the deal that he expected to hammer the final nail into his professional coffin would instead turn into pure gold. He'd make his client very rich and guarantee hefty commissions for the bank. The boss would be deliriously happy. His key to the executive washroom would remain secure. God, he loved his job!
However, everything changed one Wednesday morning about three weeks ago. Jake was sitting at his desk intently pouring over a prospectus when his boss, Mr. Vanderbilt, burst through the door. "Jackson, I have something to say to you" Mr. Vanderbilt had announced without preamble. Hearing Mr. Vanderbilt refer to him as "Jackson" and from the tone of the older man's voice, Jake had surmised that the conversation wasn't going to be very pleasant for him. There weren't too many people in his life that referred to him as Jackson. Just hearing Mr. Vanderbilt bellow out his given name sent shivers down Jake's spine and transported him to a time, very long ago, when he was a little boy spending the summer on his maternal grandfather's estate in Long Island. His grandfather's name was Jackson, too, and it had been an unwritten understanding that young Jackson Howard Evans was expected to carry the name with distinction and decorum. Even the smallest infraction would incur the severest punishment. Such a heavy burden for a small boy trapped in an adult world full of rules and void of emotional comfort. Hugs and encouragement were in short supply. Instead, a display of emotion was equated with weakness and ridicule was the reward for failure. Privilege came in the form of material things. Jake had a lot of "things" growing up. Except, he lacked the one thing that he wanted from a very young age—his parents' approval.
So, he spent most of his life compensating, over compensating, really, in his need for approval. Jackson Evans became a star athlete, a stellar student, and later, a financial genius. Along the way, he also became Jake and one day when he wasn't looking, he found the woman of his dreams. He had a job that he loved. His life finally seemed complete.
Instinctively, Jake arose from his chair. "Yes, sir", he said, his voice surprisingly confident despite the butterflies that had become squatters in the pit of his stomach. Irrational as it sounded, Jake had braced himself for the worst. He expected to be fired. Instead, Mr. Vanderbilt informed him that he had been promoted. Jake Evans was now the Human Resources Liaison. Then, the other shoe dropped—as part of his new position, every Wednesday Jake had to recommend three people to be fired.
It was supposed to be about trimming the fat and eliminating waste. Funny, the big boys on the top floor didn't look any leaner. Unsuspecting employees were going to become casualties to corporate downsizing. But staff meetings were still catered affairs complete with fine seafood and costly wines from famed cellars. The whole thing reeked from the stench of hypocrisy.
Jake stared at the name on the opened folder as if he were willing his eyes to make it disappear. He massaged his temples before closing his eyes. How could he do this?
One of the victims in this week's slaughter was supposed to be Millie Feldman. Millie was sixty years old and had been a file clerk at the bank for many years. In fact, Jake remembered the very friendly woman from the first day that he had interviewed for a position. With his newly minted MBA, charcoal suit and silk tie, and leather briefcase, he had nervously waited in the reception area. Millie must have sensed his nervousness. Her hands were full of files, but she still made a detour from her assigned duties to take the time to sit down and talk with him. Her words, comforting and sincere, had succeeded in putting the young man at ease. Jake had never forgotten that. Over the years, Millie proved an invaluable ally to Jake. Her knowledge of the inner workings of the bank, her incredible wit, and her warmth were his touchstone.
Technological advances at the bank made the need for a file clerk obsolete. In terms of dollars and cents, it made "sense" that Millie would be fired. Except to Jake, it made no sense at all.
A knock on the door shook Jake from his reverie. He opened his eyes. If the eyes were indeed the windows to the soul, those mud green eyes spoke of his inner torment.
"Jake, you wanted to see me?" Millie asked.