Teresa finished law school and had been formally and informally interning with Patterson. She secretly knew that she was up for the position of junior partner. There was no way he couldn’t offer her that. Not only had he delegated more to her than he had done himself in the last few years, she had also brought clients in consistently through family and friends. She was indispensable. She just didn’t know how to approach him about it.
The opportunity presented itself.
Patterson and Teresa had been working late one night. When everything was wrapped up on a case and Patterson thought they could call it a day, Teresa set about filing the cabinets again.
Patterson watched her and then said,
“We have to get an office manager. Would you mind posting an ad for it?”
Teresa felt her heart getting bigger. She knew he was going to offer her partnership now. She started repeating the words of the much-rehearsed speech that she had already memorized for this moment.
“Now that law school is over, I suppose you’d like to look for an attorney’s job somewhere”.
What? Something didn’t make sense.
“I have a good friend who is looking for an apprentice. Would you like me to mention your name to him? He would love to have you”.
Teresa couldn’t believe her ears. Why couldn’t she stay here as junior partner? Why did she need an apprenticeship? The last eight years were enough of an apprenticeship.
She cleared her throat,
“I was thinking I’d stay here. As junior partner”.
Patterson pretended to not have heard her. He said again,
“I’ll call him tomorrow”.
“Mr. Patterson!” Teresa started more eagerly, “I have dearly wanted to be a junior partner here. I know many clients and they know me. I have a small clientele of my own. I would love to stay here. Going anywhere else would be putting in work that I’ve already put in here. I’ve made connections and relationships. Also, I don’t need an apprenticeship anymore. I have had an amazing opportunity to work with you and I’m more than ready to be independent”.
Patterson stared at her. Then he looked at his feet. Teresa waited with baited breath.
Finally his face cracked into a smile,
“You’d be an asset anywhere you go. Let’s talk about it more tomorrow”.
Even though he didn’t give Teresa an answer, he sounded positive and almost happy. Teresa knew he couldn’t function as well without her. He was getting old and definitely needed to bring someone in.
She sang all the way home.
She told April about it. April saw the stars in her mother’s eyes and was instantly grateful for Patterson. Her mother didn’t have a social or romantic life. She hadn’t dated many men since April’s father’s death. Teresa was lonely, April was aware of that. But Teresa didn’t look lonely. She had spent the better part of her life working and learning.
“Congrats, Mom”, April gushed, “So happy for you. Let’s go out and celebrate”.
They went out and had a lovely dinner. Teresa objected about April spending most of her allowance on the dinner but April wanted to make it special. They had a delicious meal and then even had enough time to catch a movie.
The next morning, Teresa went to the office at her usual time. She turned the key in the office but it wouldn’t open.
“That’s strange”, Teresa thought.
She called Patterson and he picked up immediately and told her to wait for him.
He finally came after making her wait for an hour.
Teresa sensed something different about him. He didn’t greet her good morning and when she said “hello” he curtly nodded.
Patterson opened the office and took Teresa inside.
There, lying on Teresa’s desk, in a neatly folded envelope, was Teresa’s termination letter.
Teresa was dumbfounded. She didn’t quite get it.
She went to Patterson and asked what it was.
“You can read, can’t you?” He asked coolly.
“It says I’m fired”.
“With severance pay”.
“I don’t care about that. Why am I fired?”
“Why? Because I don’t need you anymore”.
“Mr. Patterson! I don’t get it. I really don’t. We were talking about me becoming your partner yesterday and today you fired me. I’m very confused”.
Patterson squared his shoulders and looked into her eyes,
“I won’t explain it to you. I don’t owe you an explanation. Many get hired and fired everyday. There usually isn’t an explanation except that they’re not needed anymore. Why do you think you’d be better than all those people?”
Teresa couldn’t believe her ears. She had come to like Patterson as a mentor and something of a father figure. He was a portly man who didn’t have much charisma or charm but he worked hard on his practice and had a moderately decent work ethic. There was much to be learnt from him. She knew he wasn’t the most honest person but he had always been accommodating to her and had even given her a raise every now and then. She didn’t quite get where this sudden animosity was coming from. She had been loyal and dedicated to his practice. She had done the work of four office managers and one paralegal alone, at the expense of her time with her daughter. She had given sweat, blood and tears to a practice that didn’t even belong to her. She had expanded his clientele not just through her connections but also through her efficiency and times completion of documents, obtaining court dates, inspections of properties and what not. She hadn’t had much help from him on many of those counts and she had learned most of it on the job, while in the throes of it. Patterson had always spoken very highly of her. Then why was he firing her?
“No, I don’t think I’m better than them,” she finally said, her voice slightly shaking. “I’ll clear out my desk”.
She went to clear her desk and found her paycheck there. She broke down. Dinner from last night with April seemed so far in the past. Like it happened to another person. She couldn’t believe how she had been thrown out of her job, and her boss had feared her of retaliation so much that he had changed the locks.
She came home. April was in school. She tried to find something to do but what do women do in the middle of the day, she wondered. She finally settled down to watch some TV but her mind was alive with words and taunts from her past. Only Patterson had been there, believing in her, encouraging her to go to law school. People in her family hadn’t understood until she graduated. She felt weak and useless. Her career was over before it started. Without a law firm to anchor her, how was she going to make it?
Someone whispered “You don’t give up”.
She saw April standing in front of her. How did she know about this?
“You don’t give up, Mom”.
“I don’t know, April. I’ve been rejected so many times now. I’m tired. I’m just too tired to carry on”.
“But this is the home run. This is where you get everything you’ve worked for. Now is the time to taste the fruit. How can you give up?”
“I can’t spend my entire life chasing a dream and getting turned down. I have had a rough life. You have no idea”.
“I know, Mom. Who knows more than me? I’ve watched you tired and exhausted. I’ve seen you sleeping on the couch while studying for your tests. I’ve seen you getting up at 4 in the morning for the last eight years to make it through laundry, cooking and cleaning so I wear clean clothes, eat a healthy meal and come back to a clean home because you knew you’d be late from work”.
Teresa cried. She continued to cry until she couldn’t cry anymore. The image of April, the illusion of her child seeing her fail weakened her.
Sometimes when Teresa would get too tired and needed a quiet place, she’d go to her church. Especially since Martha’s passing.
Martha had passed away a few years ago. She had long battled with a broken heart after her daughter’s untimely death and carried an ache with her. A part of Teresa and April’s family died with her.
Teresa entered the church. She was always bothered and soothed at the same time when she visited the church on weekdays. It was soothing to have the quiet to herself and just sit without any questioning eyes. It was also a little bothersome that a place of this serenity and peace was only frequented by people on Sundays as a chore and leisure activity.
As Teresa sat there she noticed a young man in a suit sitting two rows ahead of her. She had seen him around. In fact she had seen him at Patterson’s office once, asking for an internship and Patterson rudely declining his application and his request to intern with him.
“So he must be an attorney!” Teresa thought with excitement.
She wasn’t a forward woman but something prompted her to go up to the young man.
He turned around and smiled,
“Hi. How are you?”
“Good. I think I saw you at Mr. Patterson’s office once. Are you an attorney?”
He laughed and then said,
“Yes. Yes, I am. Not as successful as Patterson but I’m an attorney too”.
“I’m an attorney too, now. I remember you wanted to intern with him. I was thinking about going to law school then. I graduated a few months ago”.
“Congratulations. I’m not sure why you wanted to be an attorney after seeing an attorney’s life up close”.
Teresa looked at him with some surprise but saw the shadow of a laugh in his face and immediately knew he was joking.
“Mr. Patterson inspired me to be an attorney. I’ll always be grateful to him for that”.
He looked at her, surveying her from head to toe, thinking how occupied he must have been during his visit to Patterson’s office that he didn’t notice her.
“So how come you’re here, at the church, in the middle of the day, making small talk with a stranger? Isn’t Patterson the busiest attorney in town these days? Bet his desk is always flowing. I’ve heard that he has a wonderful secretary who has helped build his practice up by sheer efficiency. Is that true?”
Teresa looked at him. Didn’t he remember her? She was the secretary. She said quietly,
“That would be me”.
“But you’re an attorney, you said”.
“Yes but I’m Patterson’s secretary. And was sorta like his paralegal too”.
“Wow! Okay. So he actually has an attorney working as his secretary. But do you know you could be his junior partner?”
Teresa felt her heart breaking into a thousand pieces again.
“I asked him and he fired me”. And without any warning, her tears started to flow again.
The man looked struck by this. He stared at her. She didn’t know how to control her crying but she realized that this was the closest to a friend that she had and he would probably understand more.
After she was done crying she looked up and smiled through her tears,
“Sorry. I just got fired this morning”.
He nodded and smiled,
“Let’s go eat. You can tell me all about it over a sandwich. And I can tell you how it’s not as bad as you think”.