Jack tossed the papers on my desk - his eyebrows knit into a straight line as he glared at me.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
He jabbed a finger at the proposal. "Next time you want to change anything, ask me first," he said, turning on his heels and leaving me stewing in anger.
How dare he treat me like that, I thought. I had changed one long sentence and corrected grammar, something I thought I was paid to do.
It's not that I hadn't been warned. The other women, who had served in my place before me, called him names I couldn't repeat. One co-worker took me aside the first day. "He's personally responsible for two different secretaries leaving the firm," she whispered.
As the weeks went by, I grew to despise Jack. It was against everything I believed in, like turn the other cheek and love your enemies. But Jack quickly slapped a verbal insult on any cheek turned his way. I prayed about it, but to be honest, I wanted to put him in his place, not love him.
One day, another of his episodes left me in tears. I stormed into his office, prepared to lose my job if needed, but not before I let the man know how I felt. I opened the door and Jack glanced up.
"What is it?" he said abruptly.
Suddenly I knew what I had to do. After all, he deserved it. I sat across him.
"Jack, the way you've been treating me is wrong. I've never had anyone speak to me that way. As a professional, it's wrong, and it's wrong for me to allow it to continue," I said.
Jack snickered nervously and leaned back in his chair. I closed my eyes briefly. Oh God! Help me, I prayed.
"I want to make you a promise. I will be a friend," I said. "I will treat you as you deserve to be treated, with respect and kindness. You deserve that, everybody does." I slipped out of the chair and closed the door behind me.
Jack avoided me the rest of the week. Proposals, specs, and letters appeared on my desk while I was at lunch, and the corrected versions were not seen again. I brought cookies to the office one day and left a batch on Jack's desk.
Another day I left a note. "Hope your day is going great," it read.
Over the next few weeks, Jack reappeared. He was reserved, but there were no other episodes. Co-workers cornered me in the break room.
"Guess you got to Jack," they said. "You must have told him off good."
I shook my head. "Jack and I are becoming friends," I said in faith. I refused to talk about him. Every time I saw Jack in the hall, I smiled at him. After all, that's what friends do.
One year after our "talk", I discovered I had breast cancer. I was 32, the mother of three beautiful young children, and scared. The cancer had metastasized to my lymph nodes and the statistics were not great for long-term survival.
After surgery, I was visited by friends and loved ones who tried to find the right words to say. No one knew what to say. Many ended up saying the wrong things. Others wept, and I tried to encourage them. Meanwhile, I clung to hope.
The last day of my hospital stay, the door opened and Jack stood awkwardly on the entrance. I waved him in with a smile and he walked over to my bed and, without a word, placed a bundle beside me. Inside were several bulbs.
"Tulips!" he said.
I smiled, not understanding.
He cleared his throat. "If you plant them when you get home, they'll come up next spring." He shuffled his feet. "I just wanted you to know that I think you'll be there to see them when they come up."
Tears clouded my eyes and I reached out my hand. "Thank you, Jack!" I whispered.
Jack grasped my hand and gruffly replied, "You're welcome. You can't see it now, but next spring you'll see the colours I picked out for you." He turned and left without another word.
I have seen those red and white striped tulips push through the soil every spring for over ten years now. In fact, this September the doctor is likely to declare me cured.
I've seen my children graduate from high school and enter college.
In a moment when I prayed for just the right word, a man with very few words said all the right things.
After all, that's what friends do. Isn't it!
© T. Suzanne Eller