“Good morning, William,” Michelle Mercier, the cute French receptionist who was banging Norman in William’s mind, said to him with a smile as he entered the insurance company where he worked a half hour after he was supposed to.
“Ah, right. Morning,” William said with a brief, awkward smile as he made a beeline for his desk. He took off his coat, set down his bag, and sat for a moment before noticing the cottony feeling in his mouth and the deep thirst. He got up to head to the water cooler when he was stopped by a voice from behind.
“William. Good to see you this morning.” William, filled with dread, turned around melodramatically to see Norman Ordway walking toward him. Tall and built with long, flowing blond hair, Norman was both his manager at the insurance company and one of the Wolves best players. He had scored two goals the previous day, one of which he had gone right around William to get. William froze like a deer being approached by an affable predator.
“Oh, ah, hi, Norman,” William said, shuffling pathetically in his place, hesitating between staying where he was and continuing to the water cooler. Norman came up to him and placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Just getting in?” Norman asked with a smile that William chose to interpret as sadistic.
“Oh, ah, yeah. The bus was running a touch off schedule this morning,” William lied.
“Really? I would have assumed you were just tired from yesterday,” Norman said with a shrug. “Perhaps a bit of a late night on top of it.”
“Well,” William said with a wince and a bit of a chuckle. “That didn’t exactly help.”
Norman laughed. “I understand that. I had a bit of trouble getting up to run this morning myself. That was an intense match yesterday.”
William gritted his teeth and smiled. “I don’t know about that. At seven to nil, it seems you guys got the better of us.”
“Bah,” Norman said with a wave of his hand. “We were a bit upset because we ended just out of reach of the league crown, so we had a little extra kick. You guys played a tight match. We just had everything clicking. Anyway, what are you up to?”
“What do you mean?” William asked, scrunching his forehead in a confused look. “I’m working. I thought that was what I was supposed to be doing.”
“No, that’s not what I mean,” Norman said, shaking his head with a smile. “I meant what are you doing right now? Do you have a second to talk?”
“Oh, ah,” William muttered, repeating his new catchphrase, “I was actually just on my way to the water cooler.”
Norman clapped his hands in an excitable manner, a gesture that didn’t go over well with William in his current state. “Rehydrating? Beautiful idea. I’ll come with you.”
“Uh, sure,” William said, gritting his teeth as he made his way toward the water. Norman put his hand around his shoulder.
“Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about your numbers from last quarter,” Norman said as William poured a plastic cup of water and handed it to Norman. “Oh, thank you.”
“What about them?” William asked, taking a sip from his own cup of water.
“They were a bit disappointing,” Norman said, looking down at William. “You lost two accounts. Now that’s to be expected, but the number of new accounts you brought in was lower than we hoped for. As in, it was zero.”
“Yeah,” William said, looking down at his cup of water and swirling it. “It was first quarter. It’s always a little slow. But I agree, it was a bit disappointing. Things will pick up.”
“I’m sure it will. Look, you’ve been here for how long, now?”
“Fifteen years. About five longer than you.”
“Right. So clearly you know what you’re doing,” Norman said, finishing his water, throwing the cup in the recyclable bin and leaning against the wall. “I just want to make sure there’s nothing I can do to help you out.”
William shrugged and tossed his cup in the trash. “No. Nothing. Though I can’t very well bring in anything if I’m standing here talking to you, so…”
“Of course,” Norman said, gesturing toward William’s desk. “I wouldn’t want to keep you from your clients. Just let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, alright? My office door is always open.”
“Absolutely. Will do,” William said, walking back to his desk, picking up the phone, and listening to the dial tone to avoid having to do any work until his hangover subsided. He was zoned out and half asleep when the voice of the company president, George Hamlin, brought his attention back to the present.
“Attention everybody. I was going to wait until the end of the day to do this, but I figure there’s no time like the present. As you know, your branch manager, Richard Swanson, is retiring at the end of the month and we’ve been looking for his replacement. I’m proud to announce that we’ve found an outstanding candidate from among your own managers. Ladies and gentlemen, your new branch manager, Norman Ordway.”
The room clapped as Norman smiled and shook the hand of Mr. Hamlin. As he added his sarcastic applause to the chorus, William slipped his cellphone out of his pocket and texted Hugh. “Holstein after work? I’m having a shit day.”
“Why does everything good always happen to that cunt Norman?” William asked, taking another sip from his pint glass. “Seriously. Why does he get the promotion, to go along with everything else in his perfect little life?”
“I don’t know,” Hugh said as he drank from his glass. He shrugged. “Hard work and discipline?”
“Fuck that. I work hard and… discip-line.”
“Weren’t you telling me that the other day you were trying to find a customer’s old policy for her, but after searching for a half hour decided it was too difficult and told her all old policies were destroyed after a year?”
William shrugged. “So?”
“Then you took an hour nap at your desk?”
“Yeah, but I was hungover.”
“Aren’t you always hungover?”
“When I’m not drunk,” William said as he finished his beer. “What’s your point? Just because I’m not perfect doesn’t mean Norman should have everything go perfectly in his perfect life. That cunt.”
Hugh nodded as he got up and walked with William to the bar for another pint. As they walked back, Hugh said, “Didn’t his father die recently?”
“So what?” William asked as he pulled his seat out. “All fathers die.”
“I heard it was a car crash. It killed him and the woman he was sleeping with. That’s how his mother found out about the affair.”
“See?” William said, sipping the head off his beer. “Even perfect Norman’s fucking old dad is getting laid more than me. Perfect pretty boy.”
“Apparently his mother was so distraught at her husband’s death and infidelity that she killed herself shortly afterward. Shotgun to the head. Blew her face clean off, apparently.”
“I…didn’t…what’s your point?” William said with a pained look on his face.
Hugh shrugged. “Simply that maybe things aren’t as perfect for pretty boy Norman as you imagine them to be.”
“Oh, no,” William said sarcastically, waving his hands in front of his face as if to prove his point. “So pretty boy has had a few bad things happen in his life. A couple blemishes so that everyone can feel bad for him and say that his perfect life isn’t so perfect. Big deal. My point is that if he’s going to be successful, then I should be too.”
“Why should you be successful?”
“Because I want to be,” William said, slamming his hands against the table like a child throwing a tantrum because his mother won’t give him a candy.
“Hmm…,” Hugh murmured in an attempt to disengage. Then, trying to soothe William, he said, “What’s so great about success, anyway? Why do you want to be successful so bad?”
“For all the people who’ve mocked me. Who’ve been mean to me. I want to show them. I want to shove it in their faces.”
“You know, theirs. Them. Thoooose people,” William said, drunkenly slurring out the last bit.
“People from school?”
“From school?” William said, taking a moment to think about it. “No, actually. That’d be you and the Stinger boys. No, people in school were actually quite nice to me.”
“Don’t even joke about that. You know how I feel about my family.”
“Then exactly whose face are you meant to shove this desired success in, Will?”
William thought for a moment before shaking his head in disgust. “I don’t know. Them. If I can’t figure out who ‘they’ are, I’ll find some homeless guy and shove it in his face.”
“Bitch, I ain’t Mother Theresa.” William shook his head as the Stinger brothers walked in. “Hey, boys. Pull up a seat and grab a pint.”
“No, we can’t. We have to get home to our mother,” Barry said.
“Oh, do you have to get home to mommy?” William said, snickering. “What are you? Ten?”
“She’s sick,” Lester said gravely.
“Oh,” William said, knocking the snickering off and composing himself into a drunken solemnity. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“It’s fine,” Barry said, waving him off. “It’s nothing serious. Of course, at her age, anything could become serious, but for now it just looks like the sniffles.”
“That’s good to hear,” Hugh said.
William nodded. “We’ll hope for the best, but in the meantime, and I say this with the utmost respect, what the fuck are you doing here?”
“Hugh texted us,” Lester said, nodding in the direction of William’s fat friend, who smiled jovially.
“We just were wondering what was going on,” Barry said with what William perceived as an accusing tone. “It seems a little funny that the two of you are drinking considering that we have to get up and run tomorrow.”
Hugh and William exchanged confused glances before Hugh asked, “What are you two talking about?”
“Yes, what the fuck are you two talking about?” William added. “I don’t think I’ve ever run in my life except for after a football.”
“Remember the vow?” Barry asked. When William and Hugh responded with blank faces, Barry sighed and said, “Our vow to get in shape and beat the Wolves next year? Guys, it was just last night.”
“Oh, fuck off with that,” William said as he returned to his beer. “You didn’t think I was serious about that?”
“You seemed serious at the time,” Barry said.
“Yeah, I was. At the time. I’m serious about a lot of things when I’m drunk. It doesn’t mean I actually care about them.”
“We’re going to go. We figure even if we can’t win next year, at least it will help us get in shape,” Lester said, looking down at his gut. “And we work construction all day. If we’re planning on it, what’s that say about you?”
“That I’m a sad, fat, little drunk.”
“And you’re alright with that?”
William smiled and held up his pint glass. “I will be after a couple more of these.”
“Alright,” Barry said with a sigh. “Well, we got to go tend to mother. Offer stands if you’re interested. Have a good night. Hugh,” he said, nodding at the fat man and patting William on the back as he walked by.
“Have you tried berating it?” William said an hour and four pints later. Hugh shook his head.
“Can’t say that I have.”
“Well, give it a try. If something isn’t how you want it, just yell at it, and mock it and berate it until it gives in and starts acting in the way you want it to. A brute force type approach, if you will.”
“Alright. First of all, stop referring to my daughter as ‘it’,” Hugh said, sighing and sipping at his pint. “And it’s not that big of a deal. She’s a good girl, overall. Just a little on the heavy side.”
“By which you mean fat as all fuck.”
“And I’m certainly not going to yell at her for it. That’s not going to solve anything.”
“It might. What have you got to lose?”
“My daughter’s love and devotion, for one.”
William smirked and waved his hand dismissively. “Bah. Hogwash. You’re going to have to decide whether you want a thin daughter or one who loves you.”
“One who loves me. Definitely.”
“Really?” William said, surprised for some reason. He shrugged. “If you say so.”
“She’s my daughter, William. Not some status symbol I whip out to impress the neighbors.”
“She could be both,” William said, still not quite grasping the concept.
“Besides, it’s not her fault,” Hugh said, looking sadly into his glass. “After all, I’m heavy.”
“No, you’re fat as all fuck.”
“Her mum’s heavy.”
“She’s fat as all fuck, too.”
“And both her siblings are heavy.”
“Fat as all fuck.”
“It could be genetic,” Hugh said slowly with a tentative hopefulness. William laughed.
“Is that what she’s been shoving down her pie hole? Because unless it is, I don’t think that’s what’s causing it.”
Hugh smiled and shook his head slowly. “Fair enough. She eats like crap. But even that isn’t her fault. The whole family eats like crap. That’s why we’re all heavy.”
William started to open his mouth, but Hugh held up a finger to stop him. “Don’t. I get it. We’re all big fat fucks. It’s just that she’s always been a little bigger than the rest of us.”
“I suppose bigger is a relative term,” William muttered under his breath.
“But I don’t know what to do. How can we tell her to eat better when we don’t eat all that great ourselves? And the girl does love her food.”
“And now Amy’s going to have to cook an entirely separate meal. She’s willing to do it, but I feel like we’re singling the poor girl out. But I can’t do nothing. I was never too concerned about the kids’ weight, but now the doctor said it’s actually starting to affect her health. I have to do something, right?”
“Yeah,” William said, finishing off his beer and scratching the back of his neck. “So, I have an idea. I realize it might seem a bit radical, insane even, but I’m going to throw it out there.”
Hugh leaned over the table in anticipation. “What is it?”
“Well, maybe the whole damn family could try eating better.”
Hugh scrunched up his face in disgust. “What?”
“Well, look at yourself, Hugh. You aren’t exactly the model of good health. It wouldn’t kill you to make some improvements in your own diet. And the same could be said for Amy and the rest of your fat fuck kids.”
“I suppose. But…”
“But, what, Hugh?”
“Then I’d have to start eating vegetables.”
William laughed as he stood up from his seat. “It’s not the vegetables you need to eat, Hugh, it’s the chocolate cake you don’t. I’m going for another. You want?”
Hugh shook his head. “No, after this one I’ve got to head home.”
“Fucking lightweight,” William muttered as he made his way to the bar. “Dave, another round, please.”
William picked up his beer, returned to the table, and rejoined Hugh. As William focused intently on his beer, Hugh said, “You know, the same could be said for you.”
“What? What could be said for me?”
“About eating better.”
William took a sip of his beer. “I don’t follow. I’m not fat.”
“No, but you aren’t the picture of good health either. You may not eat as much, but you eat worse than I do.”
“I eat fine.”
“You eat pub food every night.”
William rolled his eyes. “Not every night.”
“How many times the past week?”
William thought for a moment, counting on his fingers as he did so. “Five.” Hugh looked at William with his eyebrows arched. “What? That’s not every night.”
“You never work out.”
“What are you talking about? I play club football with you.”
“Yeah, one night a week for four months a year. And that’s primarily an excuse to go drinking after.”
“Still exercise,” William said with a shrug and a sip of his beer.
“Not to mention the drinking.”
“Oh, come on, now. What’s wrong with my drinking?”
“Look, Hugh, I appreciate the concern, but I’m fine the way I am. Really.”
Hugh shrugged, and looked at the last bit of beer in his glass. “All I’m saying is that with conditioning like that it’s no wonder the Wolves make mincemeat of us every year.”
William gritted his teeth and put his glass down. “Alright. I’ll tell you what. The Stingers are getting up tomorrow, right? To go running?”
Hugh finished his beer off and put the glass down. “So? What’s your point?”
“I’ll go if you’ll go.”
Hugh looked up with interest. “Really?”
“Yeah. Think about it. You’re right about me being out of shape, and you admitted that your family needs to start making some changes. Well, what a great way to start.”
“How is me running going to make my family less fat?”
“Because you’ll be setting an example. You’re the patriarch. Your kids look up to you. If they see you getting up before work to go exercise, they’ll want to start doing the same.”
“I suppose. Certainly couldn’t hurt,” Hugh said, looking at the ground for a brief moment before he looked up with realization. “Wait a minute. You just want to beat the Wolves next year, don’t you?”
“Eh, well, you know,” William said, shrugging as he took a sip of his beer. “Icing on the cake.”
“Still, you’re right. I could use some more exercise,” Hugh said, staring off in thought. “Alright. I’m in.”
“Great,” William said, clapping his hands.
“I just have to clear it with Amy first. Speaking of which,” Hugh said, standing up from his seat. “I have to be getting home. You going to be able to get home alright?”