Word count, start of day -- 18,700
It was the hardest part of my job. Once a month. One hour. Trying not to yawn.
The monthly accounting department meeting was hardly ever worth what it took out of our schedules. But I knew that if Carrie Conroy ever cancelled the get together, the ladies would spend at least four hors gossiping about why the meeting was cancelled. Trying to be productive by changing our ways around here never seemed to work.
Fifty minutes later, we finally got to something worthwhile.
"I was asked to attend the latest Board of Directors meeting." I had never heard her say this before, and I had worked here for just over a year. My ears perked right up. "We may be making some changes in the organization the next couple of years. These changes are not about anyone's job in particular. So ease that worry of yours." I knew that my colleague's worry would not be eased that easily. The next smoke break would find these women chatting ceaselessly about who is going to get fired, or who is going to get reassigned, or who is going to get promoted. I trusted Conroy. She seemed like a woman who played things pretty straight.
"I repeat," she said, probably anticipating the same response that I was, "No one's job will be effected, except that there might be more work for us all to do."
Conroy fielded a few questions about this, but would not give details. The girls would spin this into the greatest of rumors, I was sure. "One change that will effect us sooner than later is that the auditors will be here more than we are used to."
"Are we being investigated? Is there a problem like that?" Barbara the payroll clerk asked. She seemed concerned about the possibility of this. It was not comforting.
"No, no, no," Conroy answered. She emphasized this strongly. "They are financial auditors, not investigators or anything like that.
"Are we changing auditors again?"
"No, it'll be the same firm."
"Same auditors?" I asked. No need to break in a new auditor in. Brian and I got along well enough. Even our two girls liked each other that one time they got together.
"Same team. Brian Norton will be here a little more regularly, checking things out, making sure," she paused. Maybe she had said too much already. Boxed herself into a corner. "Well, he will be around a little more often."
I could have sworn I heard someone mutter "Enron." Carrie must not have heard this. Or maybe she just ignored it. She must have known that no matter what she said, what she communicated to my fellow accountants was far different. And far more pessimistic. The ladies were friendly enough, they let me do my work, but boy oh boy did they gossip. That's why I never said word one about any personal situation. Except to display pictures of Erin on the desk. I gave the ladies just enough to let their grandmotherly instincts come out.
Carrie brought the meeting to its conclusion right on time. We all started to exit, but she stopped me and asked me to stay. More rumor material, this would be.
She closed the door and we sat again. "I'm telling you this for a number of reasons, Annie." She counted these off on her fingers as she spoke. "One, you work with the auditors more than any other member of the staff. Two, you have a degree in accounting and understanding the big picture of what we are going to do here. Three, maybe one day you'll run this department or one like it." I disagreed with this assessment, but it was nice for her to say it. "And four, you are the only one I think I may be able to trust in the department to keep what I say between us." She overemphasized this such a degree that it was obvious what she meant. I let out a little chuckle, but caught it quickly.
"I can trust you, right?" she said seriously. This was big, whatever it was.
I made my manner match hers for seriousness. "Of course you can."
She nodded. "Good."
"We are considering merging with or acquiring another facility. Maybe facilities. The Board wants this organization to grow, to serve more residents, and be in more localities. They have big plans, and they may need more accountants down the road." She nodded my direction, encouragingly. She had a higher view of my skills than I did. "For the short term, this will require us to tamp up our accounting procedures and get our books in sterling condition. Norton will help you get and then keep everything perfect."
"So the auditors will be here more?"
"Right, and this is the exciting part," she said. "Now this will be announced and is not a secret. But they--." She took a breath and eyed me. "Maybe this is the part we'll leak to the department."
I was confused. "What do you mean?"
She nodded. "If they ask," she craned her neck to the rest of the department. She meant my noisy and gossipy colleagues." Tell them you can't say anything about this and it has to be hush hush and all that."
"Okay." I eyed her warily. She began to stand. "But you haven't told me anything yet."
She laughed at herself. Always a good quality in a supervisor. "Right. The firm, Phares and Barnes, are going to offer regular classes to the residents and/or staff. Every two or three months. All day or half-day seminars, that sort of thing."
"On what?" It sounded like a good idea.
"Tax and estate planning issues for the first one, next moth. For the residents. In the future, we may be looking at seminars in budgeting, medical costs, reverse mortgages and investing issues, a variety of topics. Hey are considering some computer classes for the staff." She winked at me."
"That would be a good thing." It was a topic we had discussed numerous times.
"Yes, it would. Anyway, I want you to attend every on of these seminars."
"Okay, when is the first one for us? It'll be next year some time? And these will be optional for the rest of the department?" I was trying to work this out in my mind. It made a little bit of sense to me. I thought maybe the staff ones should be mandatory for all staff, not just me, but-
"No, let me explain that better. I want you to attend all of these seminars, both the staff ones and the resident ones. You will be the only staff member there. I am hoping you will become the public face of the department to the residents, if you will. So I want to learn about these topics, able to answer some of the fundamental questions they may have afterwards when Norton is back at the firm and you are still here." She nodded enthusiastically. "How does that sound?"
I nodded. It sounded great. "That's a great opportunity. You know, I was in patient care for a while, years and years ago. I really like my job," I started. I wanted her to know this. It was true. I really liked my job. "But it would be nice to get back into a little bit of patient contact on some level."
Carrie nodded. "I think you're perfect for this role, for a lot of reasons. You have done very well here, Annie, and it's been nice getting some young blood here."
That took me aback. "Thank you very much. Like I said, I enjoy it. I know that I'll enjoy working with Brian on the audit and these other seminars. And it's exciting these other developments that may come in the future. Mergers, acquisitions, all of that. It would be exciting if it came to that."
"There will be opportunities for you, Annie. And a lot of hard work, too."
"I'm not opposed to hard work." I wasn't opposed to hard work. Never had been, never would be.
"Good." She stood and nodded at me. She opened to door and let me back into the department.
I was back at my desk minutes later, making up for lost time.
I checked my audit bag. I had some handouts, a few overhead slides and a pair of authoritative-looking thick books to put on the podium. I also had more than fifty copies of the firm's thin booklet on estate planning. There had been only twenty residents who signed up for the seminar, but Conroy told me that they would not turn anyone away and that I should be prepared for a healthy number of walk-ups. She also warned me to expect half of them to be asleep by the end of the hour. Anything better than that was considered a success.
She was right. I peered through the glass window in the door and saw maybe thirty heads. Good turnout for the first one of these events.
Conroy tapped me on the shoulder from behind. "You ready to teach these good folks something?"
I smiled. "Let's do it."
She checked her watch. "One more minute. We run on a schedule around here." She nodded down the hall. Two more residents were making the slow trek down to the room.
I held the door open for my last two pupils, then followed Carrie. She ambled down the side of the room towards the front, where the lectern was placed. It was my distinct impression that everyone in this facility moved at the same deliberate pace. It reminded me of the post office.
Canterbury had a number of rooms like this one, finely decorated alcoves, or libraries, of varying sizes. They each had a few overstuffed chairs, tables with jigsaw puzzles in process, and windows looking out over the grounds.
Today, this particular library had been rearranged into a more traditional-style classroom. The wing chairs were pushed aside and five rows of folding chairs were set up. I walked behind Carrie, my eyes down. She gave a brief introduction to the series and then introduced me. She applauded. Few followed her lead. I lifted my head in the direction of the one student who was actually polite. Or who just followed Carrie's lead. Either way, this little seminar was going to be a chore. I had never done anything like this, and I was not confident about my abilities to pull it off.
I looked to the left to smile at my encourager, but I coughed when I noticed her. She gave me a half-wave and smiled.
This was going to be bad enough in front of the residents, but at least most of them would not remember this. I chastened myself for that. It would have been a comment that Annie would not have appreciated. But having to teach my first class in front of a woman I actually knew, who was actually a friend, I was not looking forward to that. I am not saying that I was trying to impress her, but it certainly would have been nice to have impressed her.
I'm certain I did not impress her.