The Maze: Chapter 4

Evan had no idea what to make of Hugh’s advice. Did Hugh think that he was some kind of a child?

This sounded like the sort of thing his mother would have said years ago—on the few occasions when his mother actually noticed his existence. She would have told him to stay close while they were out at the shopping mall—not to stray away from her protection.

But why would his colleague say something like that now? He might be the youngster on the team, relatively speaking, but he was still an adult.

“What the heck are you getting at Hugh? Would you care to elaborate?”

Hugh gave him another pause, as if weighing whether or not he should reveal some crucial but sensitive bit of information. Then he was suddenly distracted by something behind Evan’s shoulder, toward the main entrance of the McDonald’s.

“Amanda’s back,” Hugh muttered discreetly, in a barely audible voice.

Amanda’s sudden reappearance meant that the explanation of Hugh’s cryptic advice would have to wait. Amanda took her seat at the table, her bad mood palpable. What was just as obvious, though, was the fact that she was attempting to hide it. The managers at Merlesoft all maintained a constant front of rah-rah-rah enthusiasm. That was part of the corporate culture. Amanda would not allow a breakup with a boyfriend to put a crack in that all-important managerial veneer—not if she could help it.

“Well, guys, are you ready to get going?” she said with a forced camaraderie that none of them felt. She sipped her coffee and stood up again.

Evan permitted himself a discreet glance at her figure. Although she was ten years his senior, and the bane of his existence most days, he had to admit that Amanda Kearns, sales manager at Merlesoft Software Systems, was hot. She was about 5’10”—almost Evan’s height, and she had the long, lanky build of a former athlete.

Evan vaguely recalled her mentioning, in a rare moment of actual human conversation, that she had competed in the hurdles event in high school and college track. She was in good shape for a thirty-five year-old, you had to give her that. (Certainly she was in better shape than Hugh, who was in his forties; but Hugh’s health problems put him in a whole separate category.)

Amanda wore her hair long, her one concession to un-corporate femininity. Most of the female heavy hitters at Merlesoft preferred short hairstyles that bordered on androgynous. But not Amanda. She was all woman.

You want her, Evan, he thought to himself. That’s part of why you despise her so. And you’re angry because she sees you as a subordinate, not as a man.

Evan realized that his feelings toward Amanda were at least a little bit complicated. Truth be told, he was mildly resentful at being bossed around by a woman whom he found attractive. That somehow added insult to injury. 

But there was also the fact that Amanda did seem to enjoy riding him—and not in the way that he would have preferred.

Evan and Hugh both nodded, the latter’s mention of the office complex called Lakeview Towers temporarily forgotten—at least by Evan. Whatever Hugh was going to caution him about, it couldn’t have been that important in the big scheme of things. It certainly wasn’t anyone’s priority.

Evan began to steel himself for the professional trial that lay directly ahead of him. Merlesoft’s annual performance review season was only one month away. Whatever he pulled off successfully (or screwed up) today would have a significant impact on the ratings that Amanda would assign him in October.

Evan dreaded his upcoming performance review even more than he dreaded the “do or die” meeting with the important, persnickety clients at Rich, Litchfield, and Baker. A great deal was hanging on this morning’s sales presentation.

Chapter 5

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