“Ted’s really upset with you,” said Gary, shuffling into the cramped, windowless office we’d shared for a week. “You need to call him now,” he added, settling into a creaking chair.
“What’s he upset about?” I turned away from trying to fix some of Gary’s coding mistakes on a desktop computer. The room was so narrow that if I needed to leave, he would have to stand to let me by.
“Just call him,” Gary said. “Do it on speaker. I think I need to listen in.”
I arched an eyebrow. I needed a witness? That sobered me. I had no idea what this could be about. Both of them had been almost like father figures at work to me, starting thirteen months earlier when I first entered the corporate world at age 27. I trusted them. And so I dialed Ted’s number on speakerphone assuming the best despite the warning signs.
“Ted Gavin,” said a voice on the other end.
“Hi, Ted. It’s Randy. I—”
“Oh, is it now?” he interrupted sarcastically.
I did a double-take, assuming I’d misheard the big attitude. “Yeah, Gary told—”
“You have a lot of nerve, you know that?”
I hesitated, having never been spoken to like that at a job, and certainly not by Ted. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t play dumb with me. I know you’re quitting and giving one week’s notice.”
I froze. How could Ted know I was leaving? I hadn’t given notice, not to mention one week instead of the customary two. Gary’s face wore an unreadable frown so that I couldn’t tell if any of this was a surprise to him so far. What had Ted told him?
“Why do you think—”
Ted snapped, “Your recruiter friend Tina left me a message that you’re starting somewhere in a week.”
My eyes widened. Tina, a recruiter from another company, had just found me a job, but I hadn’t received a written offer yet, just the verbal one, so I wouldn’t give notice. I was waiting for the offer letter, which was now several days late. “She wasn’t supposed to call you until I—”
“Well she did,” Ted snapped. “You have to ask my permission to use me as a reference.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m trying to expl—”
“You’re being selfish,” he interrupted.
I scowled, resenting that. That was not my nature, which should have been apparent to him by now, especially given the current favor I was doing him helping Gary. His conclusion jumping didn’t warrant the accusation, and it bothered me that someone I looked up to found it so easy to believe so little of me. I started getting an attitude of my own. “Yeah? How so?”
“Because you owe me, both personally and professionally.”
I frowned harder, if that was possible. I didn’t owe him shit. Personally, he hadn’t done a thing for me and I hadn’t asked him to. Professionally, he had given me my first corporate programming job, taking a chance on me despite my inexperience, but I had repaid him by doing excellent work for six months on a contract-to-hire basis—enough so that he had wanted to hire me but couldn’t because the contract he managed couldn’t afford me anymore. The result was that he lobbied to get another group at SysCorp to interview me. I had done the rest, securing the job as an employee. But that new group, my current one, didn’t really need me and the job sucked. They had also lowballed me with Ted’s help. I was not obligated to remain and hadn’t worked for Ted in six months, so me leaving was really none of his business.
I asked, “You expect me to stay just because you helped me get this job?”
“Then you’re not being realistic.”
“Yeah, well I got you this job and I can take it away from you!”
Startled, I glanced at Gary in time to see his expression change from shock to disapproval.
“You know nothing about professional etiquette.”
I stiffened. “Considering how you’re talking to me, you’re not much better.” I saw Gary’s eyes widen before he poorly suppressed a smile.
Ted growled, “You do not have my permission to use me as a reference. Ever!”
No longer wanting him to be, I replied, “I’m not asking you to be.”
“Sure as hell sounded like the recruiter thinks you were.”
“She’s made a mistake. I—”
“No, that was you!”
“Ted, I can’t explain anything if you don’t let me finish a—”
“I don’t want to hear any explanations from you!”
I snapped, “Then why are we having this conversation?”
Ted snarled, “Listen Goddamnit. I have this recruiter’s name and phone number, so why don’t you think about that?”