Hello everyone. Remember Gretchen? Of course, how could you forget her. Anyway I had a conversation about her today and I was thinking about how she ships Darvey and tells Louis she knows all about him from Norma. That's when it hit me, what if Norma didn't just tell her about Louis? What if Louis late secretary talked to her about our favourite lawyer and redhead? So this is a new one-shot in a completely different style than I've done before, but I hope you like it anyway. Please let me know what you think.
I wouldn't say this is how I imagined my life to turn out. To find myself still surrounded by office walls after all these years. Or again, technically speaking. It's been three years. Three years of struggling, and it's not that I needed the money. Okay, I kind of did, who am I kidding?
Fifty six years old, widow and kids out of the house. All at college. A little extra money never hurt anybody.
But mostly, I just missed it.
I missed being a legal secretary. For twenty four years that had been what I did. Providing administrative and secretarial support to solicitors and the legal team. I've been involved in researching legal precedent, investigating facts and my best skill yet, if I say so myself: maintaining professional contact with a caseload of over a thousand clients. Not that you see me bragging, but these secretaries now a days. You get my point.
That was my job. Twenty four years, day in day out and I loved it. Every second of it. Now I could bore you with details about my boss, but I guess that's a story for another time.
To summarize: it had been everything.
My fingers fell around the leather straps of my grey purse, the item safely placed on my knees. My resume placed on top of it as I waited my turn. I looked to my left as a five inch heels wearing blonde left the office of the man I came to see. Three nearly identical copies of the woman that just walked past me sitting on the black leather bench. All young, slim. A lot of leg exposed.
I rolled my eyes, thinking about my younger self.
But that was in the past, far in the past.
I looked back to the man in the door opening. Grey striped suit, dark tie. Dimple a bit too far to the left, I closed my eyes for a second. Falling into old habits, but reading people is what I did. It came with the job. I watched the man look at us. Or them to be more precise. Not long, but long enough before his gaze landed on me.
"You," he pointed his right hand at me.
I'll pretend that he picked me because he knew or assumed I had the best curriculum vitae. The years of experience he was looking for, but let's not kid ourselves. We've all seen this a million times before and I knew exactly what was going on. Okay, okay, I might have had some background information on this. What am I saying, gossip details, but that's practically the same anyway.
Just facts exchanged between two legal secretaries.
I let my lips press into a thin smile. I knew why he chose me, but you can never stop those feelings you had back in high school. Getting picked last on a team is never fun. Not that that ever happened to me, but I thought I'd explain the situation to you. Looking at the three Barbie dolls on my left one more time, I held my head up high before I followed the man inside his office.
"How long have you been a legal secretary?" he asked walking next to me, a small frown on my eyebrows as I looked at him. This man meant business. The 'time is money' kind of type. I hadn't even sat down or been offered a coffee, but it was to be expected. I've worked with his type before.
"Twenty four years this spring."
He's giving me this look like he's surprised. Please.
"You good at what you do?"
Am I good at what I do? Is this guy serious? Good at what I do. Great. Excellent. The best. Maybe if you actually looked at that piece of paper I've been holding you wouldn't even have to ask, but I can't say that? Can I? Well not yet, that is.
"I'm great at what I do," I stare him down. I could have thrown in my name. Gretchen Bodinski, snap my fingers for some dramatic effect, but I'll take things slow for now. He already looks worn out, yes I noticed and no it wasn't the dimple in his tie I spoke about earlier that gave it away. Thanks. I doubt he's even looked at the list that's been on the coffee table the entire time. I mean, if he had he wouldn't have held all these interviews in the first place. Am I great at what I do?
"Then you start tomorrow."
Bingo! Hired on the spot. Gretchen Bodinksi, you still got it babe. And okay. Okay, so clearly he isn't such a tool as I made him out to be. At least he recognized a good secretary as he saw one. I give him a small smile, nodding my head as I make my way out. Time to pick out some outfits for the rest of the week.
I'm not a 'my cubicle is bigger than yours' kind of woman, cause that is something that bald lawyer would do I walked by earlier. Louis is his name if I stand correct. Now I haven't had to deal with him personally, but the stories I've heard about him. My ooh my.
Are you wondering how I do that? Being here at this firm for less than an hour and already know who's who? Let alone know stories about them? Well I could say that that's because I'm fabulous, which is true, but I had a little help in that department.
Maybe you've heard of my late friend Norma?
Anyway, back to this cubicle, cause I have to say, since we started comparing anyway, it's quite big. Maybe someone needed to compensate something? You'll never know. At least not from me, cause I am surely not going to find that out. Ever. Those days are over.
I let my fingers slip over the hardwood desk, trying to figure out where my supplies will be placed. It's not that I have much, but every person has something. A little plant, a picture or a small sign. Just something to make this place feel like home a bit more. It's the only option for the hours you're putting into this job, and then I'm only counting those for actual secretarial activities, but like I said. Those days are over.
A picture frame on the left, some files and a calendar in the middle, the computer still on the right already logged on and ready to go, I wait for my new boss to join us today. Now I know a morning meeting if I see one, but by the look on his face, the way his tie seems to be nearly choking him. I can see that's not the case here.
I almost feel sorry for the man, who's clearly in desperate need for a hug. Maybe it's my motherly instinct, but then again you don't have to be a mother to see that this man is an emotional mess. Man child, wuss. Yeah you heard it, I'll explain that later.
He's something already, but things could be worse.
I'm sitting at our usual table again, we skipped last week. She was on a retreat with her new boss and honestly I could use the time myself too. With not only a husband, but a teen with the flu at home, life gets pretty hectic. For once it comes in handy that your boss is your husband too, at least I didn't have to cancel work. But I missed this, I missed this evening. Those three hours of an escape, learning this weeks ins and outs of the legal world.
"Gretchen," the brunette, she's two years my age, sits down across the table from me. She just transferred to a new desk inside the same firm. "I don't know where I ended up," she shakes her head, "but it's like a soap opera on the fiftieth floor. You're going to love it."
Soap opera. Two words, guilty pleasure. "What happened?" the words leave my lips before I can even register them, but I know she doesn't mind. We've done this 'exchange of facts' for the past twenty years.
She rolls her eyes, a sign she doesn't know where to start. I must be bad. "My boss," she sighs. Yep, it is bad. "My boss. He's got braces! It's making me feel unnecessarily old. His office is filled with pictures of himself. He's got a cat. He muds, he does origami and – "
"Why are you still working for him then?" I'm laughing. This man sounds like a clown, guaranteed fun, but still. I'm not sure I'd be able to work for someone like that.
She looks away and I know that's her way of saying that she secretly loves it. She always preferred to work for the weirder types amongst them. "Pays the bills," I hear her speak as she lifts her shoulder, she's trying to shrug it off, but I know better. She already loves it.
"Besides," she leans closer, "The office gossip is top notch. This is the floor everyone was always talking about. I'm not going anywhere." She lets out a laugh and I wait for her to take a sip of her coffee, continuing with the story that's bound to be gold. "Louis, my boss, he's always jealous of this younger junior partner... I believe his name is.. It starts with an H.. Harold? No, Harvey. Harvey Specter and his secretary. Those two are definitely sleeping with each other," Norma smirks. "You know what's like," her eyebrow raised as she looks at me. "Same old story. The boss and his secretary."
I bite my tongue, raising my eyebrows in the same way she's looking at me, but it's no point. She knows my full story anyway and I know hers.
"Ooh, most definitely not!" she knows exactly what I'm getting at and she lifts her finger, indicating me to wait as she pulls out a manila folder from her purse. Slipping the opened file over the table towards me , she taps against the picture. "No, just no."
My eyes fall down for her to the picture in front of me. "No, indeed."
"Here's your schedule," I hand him the freshly printed piece of paper. Perfectly colour coded, and I can see him produce something that should resemble a smile. He should practice on that, I heard my predecessor was an excellent actress but it might be too early to reconnect those two. Yes I know about them, doesn't everyone?
"By the way where's Donna?" I hear the voice of Teddy Doyle over the intercom. No I'm not eavesdropping. I'm just a good secretary and a good secretary has the intercom turned on at all times. Listening in. Not to snoop, but to be on top of every little thing as I should be.
Okay you got me, gossip is always fun. Especially when you now can experience first-hand whatever it is that was or is still going on between your boss and Ms. Paulsen. Don't judge me. You would have done the same if you were in my shoes. Besides, it's not like I can ask my friend Norma now, can I?
"She moved on," Harvey answers as I turn around a bit more, pretending to work on the task I'd already finished hours ago.
"You see. That's what I'm talking about. Life's short," yes it is. Life's short. I know all about that. One second your life's perfect and you have everything you ever wanted, next moment all you've ever known is gone and you find yourself still picking up the pieces three years later. "Donna moved on to something better."
"Donna didn't move on to something better." I could hear the annoyance in his voice. My attention was drawn now. I mean we all know something happened, right?
"What do you mean?" Yes, good question. I would have asked so myself. Maybe a bit more precise, but I'm not even supposed to hear this. So I'll just take whatever I can get.
"She's working for Louis," Harvey sighs and I tap my fingers against my desk. So that's why Mr. Specter was the one with a job opening. I mean, I know some changes must have happened internally at this firm as the only position to be filled was this one after my friend passed away. But I didn't know Mr. Specter's secretary was the one to move to the other lawyer. Don't look at me like that. I've only been here for one morning now. It's not like I've seen the woman in question yet, but this clears up some things.
"Litt? What the hell happened?" Is he stupid or what? Only one thing could have happened. They crossed the line, obviously.
"Nothing happened." The annoyance clearly still present in his voice. That's a lie son, you know it. I know it. I shake my head rolling my eyes. Something happened and it must have been big, for someone to leave you after twelve years of working side by side. A couple of feet apart. Day in day out. Something happened, I'm telling you. Interesting.
"Mr. Specter," I walk into his office. Music is playing softly, it's an older record I wouldn't have picked for him, but it suits. Files in both my hands as I watch him turn around, "I wanted to –"
"You still here?" Of course I am.
"I don't leave until you leave." Nope not even when you work for someone who's never heard of a nine to five work day, but that's okay. I'm used to it. Was used to it, I'll get used to it again.
"Well in that case, what time is my meeting with Adidas?"
"I moved your 11:00 to 3:00 and your 3:00 to 5:00," I tell him expending the calendar that told exactly the same.
"Did you line up –"
"Buyers? I did, but not for another week. Nike and Puma are overseas and you said Reebok didn't matter is the other two can't be there."
"Goddamn it." You shouldn't be swearing mister Specter, but I'm not your mother, so you won't hear me correcting you.
"There's one more thing," I try to get back to what I was originally going to tell him.
"What difference does it make? I can't delay the sale if I don't know why my client is dumping his company on a whim." Has this man never learned to let someone finish his sentence? "That's the one more thing," I emphasize the 'that' as I look at him. "Mr. Doyle's best friend died a month ago of pancreatic cancer. He was 46."
"How'd you know that?" he looks at me with his eyebrows raised. This can't be new to him, can it? From what I heard from Norma Ms. Paulsen knew everything and before anyone else did too.
"Something he said to you just before he started talking shit about me stuck in my head." Yes a client talked shit about me, but that doesn't get to me. Hasn't for the past twenty years and it won't start now. Nothing new on the horizon.
"What exactly was that?" he looks at me, his shoulders hanging low.
"When people say 'life is short' two times in 30 seconds, it's usually right after somebody died."
"I take it you were listening to our conversation," his words making a small smile creep up on my lips. So he was used to it. Couldn't have been any other way, from what I hear Ms. Paulsen always considered her to be the best legal secretary in town, and listening in? That's just part of the job. "That's what good secretaries do," his turn to smile now, only confirming my assumptions.
"Sorry about the Keebler thing."
"You didn't say it." Only reason he's still alive. "Besides, it doesn't take Albert Einstein to figure out why you hired somebody that looks like me to replace somebody that looks like her." Yes, I heard the stories, but I've seen her now. The red head. Donna Paulsen. My only question being how the hell something only happened now? Twelve years people, that's a very long time.
"Listen, Gretchen. I –" he starts mumbling. Ooh my, this man is a mess. What's he trying to say? I decide to interrupt him before this conversation goes south. He just confirmed my suspicions even more, all I need to know. For now that is. What? I love gossip, sue me.
"You don't have to worry about that with me, I prefer my men manly."
"Am I not manly?"
I see her smile as she walks towards me, it's Tuesday. Our weekly Mah-jongg night. "You look happy," I observe out loud handing her a cup of coffee as I wait for her to settle down on the chair opposite of mine. We do this every week. Alternatingly bringing coffee. It's our night away from our offices.
"You won't believe what I heard this week," Norma laughs as she takes a sip from her cup.
"Louis?" I laugh already shaking my head. The thing's she has told me about him in the past five years are enough to fill a book with.
"Okay," the other woman laughs, clearly making herself ready for this story. "I didn't see this happening myself, but Donna told me in the partner's kitchen the other day."
"Donna. That's the one working for –"
"Specter," Norma nods, "you know the one Louis wants to be," she lets out a laugh. "Anyway, so a couple of days ago Louis was out of the office and apparently Specter needed him. And she said he walked into her cubicle like a puppy with his tail between his legs, begging her to ask me where Louis was," Norma shakes her head. "He didn't have the guts to do so himself!"
"I thought he was the self-proclaimed hot shot lawyer?" I'm not making this up. These are all Norma's words. As you guessed, mahjong night isn't really mahjong night. Well the game's on the table, but we always share 'news' first.
"Ooh, he's a wuss. Donna's words, not mine," Norma giggles.
"She said that?"
"Not just to me, but to his face too."
"And she still works for him?" my head shaking, eyebrows raised. Who can say something like that to their boss? Okay I could, but that was… Well you get what I'm trying to say.
I see her rolling her eyes at me. She knows my situation, she knows I've been there. "She could say anything to him and still get a raise too," shaking her head.
"She has him wrapped around her little finger," It's an assumption, but I know it's true.
"At least for the five years I've been working with Louis."
"And they're still not –"
'Nope," she shakes her head letting out a sigh. "As far as I know not."
"This is getting frustrating," I laugh out loud, "we're getting old. They better hurry up, I want to hear the good stuff too."
"She called him a wuss, that's the good stuff."
"A wuss." I shake my head, unable to control my laughter any further.
"Well, if you have to ask," I stare at him. One eyebrow raised, I'm challenging him, recalling the 'wuss' story. Okay that was a lie. He's manly, but not my type and the fact that I'm at his desk instead of the woman that has always been and still should have been, does make him a bit of a wuss.
It are her words, not mine.
And that was just my first day at this firm." I shake my head, reliving the new memories I made in these past months. Most of them in front of the other office, where I started.
These walls are cold, the lighting barely turned on and the size? Well this firm just isn't what it was before. We moved to a smaller building after the case around Mike ended. I say we; yes I moved with them. Once part of the team, always part of the team. It's just the six of us, now.
I look down as I pace around the office of my boss. He's out and I'm still here or actually I'm waiting for him to return. I let my fingers run over the square box on his desk, before my feet move me to the window sill. The Manhattan skyline still beautiful, but not the same from here. I look over my shoulder, eyeing the office. We've just settled in this morning.
Everything's different now.
My eyes fall on the marble urn in front of me again. "Hello Norma," I whisper closing my eyes. It's not something I do or used to do, but it's Tuesday and Tuesday's were always our days. "Guess who's working for Louis now?" I shake my head, the stories she's told me about him directly coming to mind. Yeah it's a strange thing; life. How I ended up on the exact spot you kept telling me about these past years.
And let me tell you, it exceeds my expectations. Not a word you shared too embroidered.
Louis Litt; what a remarkable creature.
Walking back to the desk again, I open the box and place the board on the table. Smiling as I see her picture, he had a picture of her. "Anyway," my shoulders moving up and down as I continue with the stones. "A lot has happened since that first day a few months ago, you've probably seen it happen from where ever you are, but that's where I am now. Playing mahjong with your old boss. My boss now." Turning the last stone around, I place two cups on the table. A prunie and a cup of tea, the latter being for me of course. Who drinks prunies anyway?
"Ooh," I let out a laugh as I'm suddenly reminded of something she would have loved to know. It's so normal for me now, that I hadn't even thought about telling her just yet. "The wuss," I shake my head, but that's how she referred to him, "he stopped being one. Saw them holding hands this morning as they –"
"Who are you talking to?" Louis mumbles as he enters his office.
"No one," I shake my head, as I signal him to come further. His eyes wide as he's looking up and down between the game of Mahjong and me. His lips curling up, "really?" he mumbles as he sits down opposite of me.
"It's your turn, Louis," I smile at him, "let's see if you're better than Norma."