Josh told me to close the door and proceeded to tear into me about my lack of responsibility, ingratitude and how close I was to being fired. When he finally let out an exhausted sigh he fell back in his seat and asked me for an explanation. I wasn’t sure if I should lie and tell him I had car trouble, or be honest and let him fire me for putting Jess ahead of him in my priority of responsibility. I decided that the truth was the better option. I was expecting the worst and braced myself for another five-minute lecture.
“So you drop everything for a girl who is doing drugs and just forget about your boss who is in desperate need of his laptop?” Josh’s tone of voice was down to a whisper.
I wasn’t sure how to read the situation. I wished he was still shouting. This threw me completely off balance. I started to apologise when he put his hand up to stop me from going on. He put both elbows on the table and covered his face with his hands. Now I was even more puzzled. I decided that silence was the best option and waited for Josh to make the next move. It felt like ages before he slowly dragged his hands down over his salt-and-pepper beard and clasped them into a gesture of prayer. Eyes still closed he started to speak in the same low tone.
“Sit down Kyle.”
My stress level went up another few notches with this sudden change in atmosphere. It felt as if I was going to be executed at dawn and Josh was about to inform me of my last rites.
“What did you say her name was?”
I hadn’t mentioned Jess’s name. I simply said that it was a girl in my class at college.
“Kyle, I don’t know how to tell you this. Let me start by commending you on putting her safety above my stupid laptop.” eyes still closed he went on. “I have been there myself, done it and got the tee-shirt.”
Okay, it was getting a little clearer. Josh had also tried to rescue a damsel in distress. I apologised again and said thank you for understanding. I said it felt good to know that he was also a bit of a rescuer.
“No, you don’t understand Kyle. I was where your friend is now.”
I was so relieved that his eyes were closed and he couldn’t see the shock on my gawking face.
“It seems like a long time ago and it feels like it was just the other day, but the fact is that it was a reality that almost killed me. You are the only one besides Cassie who knows about it. Before she was my PA we dated for a few years. It was a chaotic time in our lives and we lost touch until she applied for the job and found out it was me who ran the company. She did exactly what you are doing and saved my life eventually.”
By now my expression no longer gawked, I had to tell my face not to express what my emotions were going through. I had to try and process the information coming from my boss and try to grasp that this super stable, together person was once fighting the demons of addiction. I simply could not bring the two scenarios together into one person; Josh!
I had been through some hectic times myself during my teens. I dabbled with alcohol and cigarettes, but never anything more than that. I put it down to the fact that I was just too scared of what it might do to me. I was often tempted, especially when my dad was giving me a hard time about something. Fortunately, I had been given some sound advice by my grade ten a teacher that kept me out of trouble. He told us that when we did something in anger that was meant to spite the person who made us angry, like drinking too much, or smoking dope and the like, that it was the same as drinking poison and hoping that the other person would die. I remain deeply grateful to him.
I still could not trust myself to speak, so we sat in silence for another few minutes, it seemed.
“It was a long road back Kyle, but it was worth it. Don’t give up on Jess now that you know she’s battling this thing. I can tell you so many stories of people like me that I see every week and talk about doing life after addiction. Haven’t you ever been curious as to why I only come into the office at 10:00 am on a Wednesday?”
I shook my head lamely as if to say I’m the worst person for not questioning, or realising the reason for his late arrival. It felt very strange to be thinking like this. After all, he was the boss and he could come in late every morning if he wanted to. It made me realise that the guilt he felt about his addiction still caused him to think that everybody knew about it.
“So Kyle, how does it feel to know you are not being fired?” a faint smile creased his lips for an instant as he pulled himself upright in his chair and reached for the laptop I had delivered late.
I started to apologise again, only to be stopped by a look that told me that if I continued, I would be fired. I changed tack immediately and told Josh that I was very relieved and thanked him for his understanding.
“I do understand my friend. If there is anything you need to help Jess, just let me know.”
I was still telling my face not to follow my emotions. It was the first time Josh had ever called me his friend and it took a while for the shock to subside. I felt so close to him in that instant, I could have hugged him. I thought the better of that notion as I was sure it would not go down well, seeing as his cubicle had floor to ceiling glass walls.
“One last thing Kyle, if you decide to give up on Jess, I will fire you. You can leave the door open on your way out.”
You could hear a pin drop in the main office as I emerged. Every head was down looking at a screen, a desk pad, whatever there was on their desk. I eased into my desk chair and called Jess’s mobile.