Word count, start of day -- 31,200
I sat in the front entrance way in a large upholstered chair. The festivities were getting ready to start in the cafeteria at half past six. I had told Kathy that inventory counting would start around half past seven, maybe eight. I told her if she wanted to come for the party before, she was welcome. She seemed lukewarm towards that idea and I doubted she would come for that. I planned on waiting here for her for another fifteen minutes before wandering over to the festivities. I did not want to miss a minute of Annie's event.
My promise to Kathy was to get her out of the Home by nine -- "just long enough to count in the freezer," I had told her with a chuckle. She had a boyfriend, and she had plans for the evening.
I had no such plans myself. Gwen was used to me counting inventory on the last day of the year. It was somewhat of an auditing tradition. I had never gotten home later than eleven after a count, but it was hard to make social plans. Of course, in her condition now she was not very social, and Natalie was too young to stay up until midnight. And Gwen's parents were too old.
Gwen's face was looking better every day. The swelling had gone down and the stitches were fading. She was getting around adequately on her crutches, and would be moving to a cane soon. Her job was great with her, and she would be going back to work the start of next week. Her parents were planning to leave a few days thereafter, assuming all was going well. Then we would be back to normal. Until the court case, at least.
I checked my watch. Six thirty. Kathy was not coming, so I ambled to the big party in the cafeteria. The first thing I noticed was that the television was very loud. With this particular party and the people attending, this was not surprising. The second thing I noticed was Annie Bainbridge, dressed to go to a party. I had never seen her look better.
Her black dress was accented with dark blue swirls. It reached past her knees, and what I saw of her legs were shapely and sleek. The heels helped, too. The body of the dress was more form-fitting than her work clothes by a long shot, and she had a very nice form for it to fit. The outfit was not excessively provocative by any means, and it showed nothing inappropriate. It was a stunning dress nonetheless. At least, Annie looked stunning in it.
I tamped down my instinct to move towards her and gush at her. Like any man would, I reminded myself. I greeted the rest of the accounting staff I recognized, then chatted for a few minutes with Carrie Conroy, also dressed a tad fancier than usual. I decided to let Carrie tell me about Annie's part in this event with a leading question or two.
"Great party," I said, raising my glass of sparkling apple juice to Conroy.
She returned the gesture, and we clinked glasses. "Looks like the folks are all having a good time."
I let my eyes travel around the whole of the room. "This is a great idea. Is this an old Canterbury tradition?"
"You know, this is our first year."
"No, really?" I said, trying hard to not pour it on too thick.
"It was Annie's idea," she said proudly, like a mother bragging about her prodigy of a child.
"Your accountant, Annie?" I said, playing as dumb as I could. "That Annie?"
Conroy nodded. "She's worked a number of facilities like Canterbury and said that one of them did an event like this. She mentioned it, the operations manager liked it, and we stole the idea." She snapped her fingers. "Just like that."
"Good for her," I said."Is she around? I haven't seen her." Did I just feel my nose grow?
Carrie pointed past me and to her left. "She is in an absolutely gorgeous blue and black number." She leaned in conspiratorially. "It was her idea that we make it a little more formal of an affair, and dress up a little bit."
I nodded, complimenting her own outfit. She thanked me demurely and I turned. "I'm going to go find Annie and chat with her for a bit."
"Don't drink too much apple cider now, Brian. You have to count our inventory."
I smiled and turned. No, that was not going to happen. Getting drunk ever was the furthest thing from my mind.
Annie noticed me when I was about ten feet from her. She smiled and I almost stopped in my tracks. She was stunningly pretty when she smiled. She did it far too rarely. I sauntered up beside her and greeted her. I inhaled the scent of magnolia and vanilla, some sort of rinse or cream or perfume. She smelled delectable.
I leaned over close to her ear. It was silly, as nobody in this room was capable of overhearing anything, but I said softly to her, "Is it impolite if the first thing I say is about how great you look?"
Annie tried to stifle her laugh, then said, eyes straight ahead. "That would not be impolite at all."
Also looking ahead, I said softly, "Good. I wouldn't want to be impolite, but you look great. You really do." She really did.
She leaned ever so slightly my way, enough for her shoulder to brush into mine. "Thank you. It's good to see you."
"I've missed you, Annie."
She nodded. "You, too."
The festivities began at this point, and we were quiet, observing, participating when appropriate. We shouted the countdown from ten to one, live from London, and watched the fireworks explode with Buckingham Palace and the Tower Bridge in the background. There was much applause in the room, which we participated in. There were lots of hugs and kisses, which we did not participate in.
The two of us rejoined Conroy and a few of the accounting colleagues for more punch and a variety of sweet treats. I had downed a brownie and was working on a slice of cake when I caught Annie reaching for a peanut. Not a handful of peanuts, not even a couple of peanuts. A single peanut. It was the sum total of her snacking for the evening.
"Big snacking, there, Annie," I needled. "Don't go overboard."
She responded with complete earnestness. "That's enough for me. I had some cookies last week."
Carrie chuckled. The payroll clerk put in, "I remember a time when I had to figure worth saving, dear." I couldn't quite believe this was ever so. "Don't let these men razz you."
Annie responded, "I don't let it worry me." She wiggled and readjusted her dress on her body. It seemed like an automatic response, completely asexual, but to me it was an extremely sexual move. "I like my size 4 dresses and I want to wear this one as long as I can."
The ladies nodded, understanding some mystical property of clothing that I would never hope to grasp. I have learned a lot in my life, after being the only man in a group of women many times, but you could feel like a real outsider in times like this.
We wandered down to the accounting department to find the inventory tally sheets. Kathy West was waiting outside the office when we arrived. She was wearing a dress that revealed far more skin than Annie's did, but she not have look nearly as sexy. Granted, this was a high standard to live up to, but Annie just knew how to dress herself. It definitely was a skill. I reintroduced the women and we picked up the forms. Kathy had another year under her belt at the firm, so I let her run through the process of selecting the items were to recount.
Since this was out firm's second year on this audit, we did not have to manually perform all of the counts, but just randomly select a certain number of items to double-check. Canterbury employees had performed the counts earlier, after each unit had closed for the day. Kathy went through the statistically valid process of selecting the items we were to recount. This gave us an acceptable level of assurance that they had counted the items correctly. It was like the polling that politicians did just before elections. There was a margin of error, but polls were usually pretty good snapshots of voter attitudes at a particular point in time.
In the same way, our job was to have a certain percentage of confidence that the inventory values were within a reasonably small "margin of error," if you will. Given the future plans of Canterbury, we selected more items to check than a traditional audit would require, to both shrink the margin of error and raise our level of confidence. The math was way beyond me, but I trusted those who had developed it.
Kathy and I split up the counts in the office supply area and the pharmacy. Annie went with Kathy for a while, then joined me. I was a little miffed when she went off with my colleague, but it certainly made sense. Annie was a cagey one. She had evidently thought this through more than I had. I was not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.