147. - Lucien
"I always forget you have an office." I'm sitting at my desk and Emma is leaning on my shoulders, curling a strand of hair around her finger. We drove back at the crack of dawn, because that's when Emma found out I wasn't sleeping anyway and she decided that we might as well get back in time to prepare. So now we're back in my apartment, where I immediately retreated into my office.
I chuckle softly at her comment. "Well, this isn't exactly where we spend the most time together now, is it?"
"I suppose not." She kisses my cheek. "Coffee?"
I don't really leave the spot behind my computer in the hours that remain until the meeting. Every now and then Emma comes in to check on me, and I can see the wrinkle of worry on her forehead, but she doesn't say anything. We agreed on the outcome last night, but I wanted to make sure I had exhausted every possible resource - even if I probably don't end up doing anything with it. She has my back, like I have hers.
Eventually she does come in and blocks my computer screen with one of the empty file maps on my desk, telling me it's time to get dressed. I don one of my best suits and I notice Emma giving me an approving look from across the room.
"I'll be damned if I let the man read me on my outfit." I explain grimly. "Ready to go?"
"Ready as I'll ever be. And remember..." She puts a hand on her purse. "If all else fails."
I take her hand. Whatever the outcome is, we're in this together. And we'll come out of it together, too.
There's a lot more people present than I expected. Some people from HR, a secretary and two men I recognise to be independant supervisors - and of course, my father. The only thing missing to finish this court scene is a judge. I clench my jaw, hating this game of power Jacques is playing, but I refuse to let it get to me.
We shake hands. We sit down. Them on one side of the table, Emma and I on the other. Another power play. My father is directly opposite me, staring at me. I stare back.
"Let's get straight to business, then." He says. I give him the go-ahead with a gesture. "You're here because you and Miss Middleton have declared to be in a relationship, despite -"
"We know why we're here." I interrupt coldly. "Get to your offer."
His eyes narrow ever so slightly and my stomach twists uncomfortably. Am I out of my league? Am I making a mistake? No going back now. "Calling it an offer makes it sound like you have the ability to make a counter-offer. Let me asure you, son, that you do not." When I don't reply, he takes in a sharp breath and looks down on the papers in front of him, picking two of and sliding them over to me and Emma to read. "Miss Middleton's contract will be terminated immediately. She'll leave with a nice little bonus to last her until she finds another job, though there will not be a recommendation from Rutherfeld and Havemeyer. In return, we won't disclose why the contract was terminated. Mister du Castellon-junior will take two months of unpaid leave. Depending on his behaviour and actions in those two months it will be determined if he'll be welcomed back at Rutherfeld and Havemeyer or that his contract, too, will be terminated. This behavior mainly entails cutting all contact with Miss Middleton and putting an end to this relationship. Now, considering Lucien's online following, both of you will put out an official statement that you are not - nor have you ever been - in a relationship. We'll play it off like the whole fiasco damaged your... friendship, if you need a way to explain the sudden break in contact."
It's all there on the paper, seemingly airtight and with short dotted lines for me and Emma to sign on. I think of the resignation letter in Emma's purse. Of how we agreed that she'd hand it over, and thusfor refusing any deal that my father would offer us. I glance over at her, seeing the countless emotions in her eyes, the tight line of her lips. But mostly I see the love on her face and I shake my head. "No." I turn back to my father, heart hammering in my chest. "We won't be signing this."
Dead silence. My father's piercing blue eyes are spitting fire and I let it engulf me, refusing to let it burn me. I dare taking another look at Emma, who's just looking at me with the smallest smile and that's enough to encourage me to keep going. My argument is weak, but it might just be enough. I take my briefcase, pulling out an array of files. I push them towards my father.
"These are all of Miss Middleton's cases since she started working here. Aside from the Copperman-case she's done nothing but stellar work. Few new employees work as hard as she does." My father glances at the files, then at me.
"The Copperman-case wasn't just a small mistake, Lucien. The man is in jail, for God's sake."
"I know. But you didn't fire her over it. You could have easily done so, it would have been warranted, but you didn't. Instead, you agreed to let her keep working starting back on square one. And she proved herself in that time. So much so that she got herself a promotion. One that you approved."
"Only after I let you convince me."
"Oh please." I roll my eyes. "As if I'd ever be able to convince you of anything. You've seen her track record. You would not have approved the promotion if you hadn't come to the same conclusions I did."
"How can we be certain you didn't recommend her with the intention to impress her?"
"Because I first contacted you about the promotion halfway through November. Miss Middleton and I didn't start our relations until late December. You have access to all the files of our employees and I have absolutely no doubt that you checked not only that Miss Middleton was worthy of a promotion, but also if there was no one who should get it before her. There wasn't."
My heart is still racing so fast I fear it might give out. I feel a small tap against my ankle; Emma's foot, showing support in the only way she's able to right now. Father is looking mad in a way only he can, but that only proves to me that I'm right.
"It doesn't take away that you are in a leader position, having relationships with one of your employees." He says, making me glance at the HR people and praying that what Selene told me is right.
"As long as it does not influence my choices, there is no rule against that. It just needs to be strictly monitored."
"He is right, Mr du Castellon." the man from HR says, clearly not happy to admit it. There's a twitch in my father's jaw as he clenches it and for the first time in my nearly twenty-seven years of life, I feel like I might have the upper hand.
"You have no real reason to fire E... Miss Middleton. Her track record shows her to be one of our most promising employees in years, she has proven herself time and time again after making a mistake. You did not fire her for that mistake and you also approved her promotion. There is no actual rule that I would not be allowed to date her, as long as we are open and honest to HR with regular check ups. There is no reason to believe it would hurt the firm's reputation. The only reason you're dead-set on firing her is spite." Somewhere in these words, this came to be between father and son and no longer boss and employee. "Remember one of your earliest lessons to me? Dépit ne le coupe pas au tribunal."
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