The clerk behind the counter at Allmart waved cheerfully to Julia as she stepped over the threshold of the store. She nodded an acknowledgement and headed straight to her office. She nodded, because that was what was allowed. If she had waved, it could have been interpreted as something other than a greeting according to the manual adopted by the coop three months ago. Heaven forbid she stop to chat. Julia stopped the thoughts strolling through her mind. No, she told herself, she would not be negative about a regulation intended for her own protection.
It had been exactly six months since her first meeting with Caesar O’Swiffy. The first delivery of chocolate had been wonderful, and it really perked up the entire staff. Julia was glad she had joined the business coop. Mr. O’Swiffy, their accountant, seemed like a dream come true.
The fourth week after that first chocolate delivery had been icy, and three employees were in fender benders; one, a rear end bump at a stop sign, and the other two, minor crashes on side streets. Julia, herself, had had a near miss. So when their accountant had suggested providing transportation to workers who faced some difficulty getting to work, everyone in the coop had agreed. It was worth it to keep their employees safe and, besides, it would minimize hours missed due to taking care of car repairs.
That icy week had made everyone hesitant to make the short run to the McDonald’s down the street over their lunch breaks and those who hadn’t packed a lunch had gone without. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There was chocolate in the break room, and some of them had a few pieces. The next coop meeting had resulted in a lunch provision to employees. Breakfast soon followed.
With the provisions had come more paperwork, though. Julia had found every increasing demands on her time to follow coop regulations and to record any deviations from them.
Julia looked up at the sound of a knock on her door.
“The mail came early,” Julia’s assistant, Lexie, said as she walked into the office. “Umm, let’s see, not much here except a few flyers and something from the business coop. The electric and water bills are usually here by now. Would you like me to make some calls and see what’s holding them up?”
“No, Mr. O’Swiffy said we would get a lower rate if the businesses in the coop were billed all together, so the coop is taking care of it now. You have to admit it’s more streamlined.”
Julia slit open the coop’s envelope with her letter opener. She held the contents up for Lexie.
“See? Here are those bills. We just pay the coop instead of the electric and water companies now.”
Lexie bent over and peered at the multiple lines in small print.
“What’s this?” she asked, pointing.
“It’s the charge for the coop to pay the bills.”
“And this?” persisted Lexie pointing to another line.
“That’s the charge to help any business in the coop should they they fall short a month.”
“Doesn’t that negate your savings?” Lexie asked under her breath.
“You’d better not let Mr. O’Swiffy hear you. He’d be offended. This is his baby, you know.”
Picking it up and unwrapping it, Julia thought that she could find it in her heart to love this man.
Lexie quickly left as Julia answered, “I was just explaining about the utility charges arrangement.”
Caesar O’Swiffy massaged his back and carefully sat in the chair in front of Julia’s desk.
Julia jumped up.
“How’s your back, Mr. O’Swiffy? I heard you had a run in with a stack of boxes. Here, take my chair. It’s padded.”
The accountant moved to Julia’s chair as Julia sat in the one she reserved for office visitors.
“Thank you, Julia. Yes, it was at Norton’s Grocery during inventory.”
“Why were you there during . . .” Julia began, but Caesar O’Swiffy cut her off.
“I think it’s important, Julia, that the staff is made aware of expectations. That,” Caesar O’Swiffy waved in the direction of the door through which Lexie had recently left, “assistant needs to be reprimanded for her lack of support for our efforts.”
“Oh Lexie’s fine. She’s always been a great employee and is an excellent assistant,” Julia replied.
“Hmmm, we shall see,” Mr. O’Swiffy countered. “Our efforts here are only because we want to make things easier on everyone. Don’t you want to make things easier?”
“Of course!” Julia assured him. No one had ever accused her of a lack of compassion and no one ever would.
“Everyone needs to be supportive. A house divided against itself, well you know the rest. It’s employees like that who bring everyone else down.”
“Lexie has never broken a rule, Mr. O’Swiffy,” Julia defended her assistant.
“Rules can be broken in thought as well as deed,” Caesar O’Swiffy cautioned her.
He placed a stack of papers on Julia’s desk and stood.
“I’ll be back next week to check on staff compliance,” he said, tapping his finger on the papers he’d brought.
Julia stood as he left, then sat back down, then realized she was sitting on the wrong side of her desk.
to be continued . . .