A dry Reisling is the perfect partner for a spicy meal.

The restaurant didn’t carry any Noble wines in their inventory. I was making a mental list of who to fire for booking this lunch location when Jack Noble arrived with his father. I closed the wine menu abruptly as I stood to greet them.

“Don’t worry, Nora, we already knew that Khan Toke doesn’t carry our wine. That’s why we agreed to meet here. We want to see what they’re recommending. With your help, I know we’ll be on that list next time we come in.” He was so disarming, I was shocked at first, surprised, then relieved. I felt a pleasant unraveling in my chest. Maybe they weren’t going to fire us after all.

Don Noble held out his hand, “Nora, it’s a pleasure to see you again. You remember my son, Jack.” I nodded and shook both hands.

Bryson shook his hand with careful hesitation. “Please,” he motioned to their seats at the “table” – really a set of cushions to mimic a traditional Thai table, only for the Westerners who frequent this San Francisco authentic Thai restaurant, they have the table built into a hole in the ground so the less flexible humans have a place to put their legs. I thought to myself how fortunate that it was a pant suit that the cleaners delivered today as I eased my legs under the table. Bryson and I took a seat opposite Don and Jack.

Jack motioned for the wine list, “May I?” I handed it to the expert. “Do you mind if I order for the table?” Bryson and I both insisted. He turned to the waiter. “Bring us the Reisling, please.” Bryson’s brows shot up. “I’d have thought a Chardonnay,” he gestured to the menu. Jack winked, “Rookie mistake.” He looked at me. “You haven’t experienced how hot they make their Pad Thai.” He glanced at me and for some unknown reason…I blushed. Is Jack Noble flirting with me? “Riesling is underestimated in the category of fine wines because so many wineries pump it up with sugar. A dry Riesling is the perfect partner for a spicy meal.”

I was secretly doing the Snoopy dance. Jack Noble just corrected Bryson Keller. He can do that because in this business, the client is king. I was getting ready to high five him in my head, when Jack turned to me. “Nice restaurant. The food here is better than most of the modern Asian cuisine in the city.”

I nodded my thanks, but it’s Brenda who gets the credit. She booked this restaurant because it’s close right off the main thoroughfare as they enter the city from Marin County, but it’s also near my flat in the Lake district, not that I was there last night to enjoy the convenience. I quickly made the course correction to our main topic, “Jack, Bob, I want to apologize for the mistake our team made. In the category of rookie mistakes, this is one I take personal credit for. I authorized a junior executive to run the press release without my approval. I’m taking full responsibility.”

Bryson cut in, “And if it would suit your preference, we can have the account reassigned to another senior vice president…” Before he had a chance to notice the surprised look on my face, Jack Noble cut him off.

“That won’t be necessary,” Jack kept his gaze fixed on Bryson as he reclined in his seat. “Nora won the business and I’m going to let Nora fix her own mess. I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes,” he glanced at his father, Don, who dropped his head and chuckled, “and that’s the same chance my boss gave me six years ago.”

Don lifted his gaze to Bryson’s eyes and paused there for a meaningful second before he turned to Nora, “We were impressed with your proposal,” he told Nora in a genuine tone, “but it’s the way you run your team, and how you showed up to present that won the RFP.”

I’d just been flattened and inflated in the course of a minute and a half. It’s exhilarating and terrifying. I’ve built an expectation that now I have to live up to, “Thank you, Don.” I turned my head toward Jack, “I appreciate your faith in our team.”

“Yes, we have faith in your team, Nora,” Jack returned, “but it’s because we have faith in you.” I beamed and blushed in the same stroke of wonder that I could be so lucky to have a customer like this at a time when my career was at a pivot. If I can pull this off, Bryson will have to give me the managing director job. One small step for Nora is one giant step for women across our global firm; I’d be the first female on the executive team. For the first time, I was seeing this is actually possible. Then Don interrupted my reverie.

“We have one request, Nora,” Don set his gaze directly at me, side-glancing at Bryson then fixing on my eyes. “We think you will be better equipped to represent our winery if you come to Napa and experience the wine-making process first hand.”

My heart leapt at the thought of spending a week in Napa, then plunged at the thought of all the work that keeps me tethered to my team in San Francisco. I was poised to decline when Bryson’s booming voice set the record straight, “She’ll be happy to.”

Three courses and two bottles of wine later, Bryson was in a celebratory mood for the rest of the lunch. He didn’t show any sign of disapproval, he was in fact euphoric.

“I have to hand it to you, Nora, you have them fooled.” He was looking out the window of the limo as he threw cold water on our celebration with his seething words. I was too stunned to speak. He turned to face me.

“I’m not sure what favors you are handing out to this client,” his hand crept from his lap to my right leg, “but it seems to be working.” I turned to stone. What is happening? “You know, those favors might come in handy when I appoint the new managing director.” His creepy, reptile eyes fixed on mine as his hand crept up my thigh.

“Stop!” I called, as much to Bryson as to the driver. “Stop the car!” The driver pulled over. I lunged out the car on the street side, narrowly missed by a passing bus. Still poised to close the car door I stooped to address Bryson. “I’d like to finish this conversation after you’ve had a cold shower.” I slammed the car door and stood there on the side of the street as the driver moved on toward the office.

What have I done? In the middle of California Street, I stood frozen in time, and watched my whole life flash before my eyes like that scene in Lucy when she scrolls through history all the way back to the first woman. Everything I’ve built in 22 years…to replace everything I’ve left behind. Can it disappear that fast? My whole career in one slam of a car door.

A horn jolted me out of my reverie. And a voice out of the rolled down window, “Can I take you somewhere, lady?” The driver in the yellow cab smiled in the way that says, “I’ve seen what just happened.” I climbed in and noticed when I handed him my business card with the office address, my hand was trembling. “On second thought, head to the Lake district. 722 Lake St.” Home. I can’t face him now. I need a strategy.”

DISCUSS

  1. Have you ever had that oh shit moment when you believed that you had made a fatal flaw?
  2. Or have you had a moment when you held it in, didn’t react, but it killed you on the inside?
  3. Now for the hard question: have you ever been the victim of inappropriate advances in the workplace? Or anywhere? How did you handle it?
  4. On the lighter side, who is your Thor? Who do you dream will rescue you from your life?