by Pam Sears
Employee bonding time..?
| “Not. Gonna. Happen!”
Lester clung to the rock face of the cliff he was scaling and wondered how in the name of sweet buttered biscuits he’d ended up here. Was he insane? It was his *cousin* that was the adventurous one. Del was the type to go hang gliding or water skiing with sharks. Or climb cliffs that rose higher than the Empire State building. Not him!
“C’mon, Les! It’s not that difficult.” Came Shauna’s voice. She was a co-worker at Shepherd’s Anglers Shop and was the reason he was in his current fix, he was sure. It had been her guiding his movements from below as he’d climbed.
“Shut it, Shauna. You got me here but that’s it. No more. I refuse!”
There were giggles as another co-worker watched with Shauna while Les clung to the small finger holds with the desperation of a man who know if he slips, he’s dead. He’d get even with the two of them later, especially Shauna.
He’d been working Shepherd’s for the last two years in the accounting department. He had no clue about anything to do with the outdoors unless it was football and even then he preferred soccer to American football. He’d had a Brazilian roommate in college that had introduced him to what he referred to as “real football” and Les and been hooked on the game ever since.
This, though. The whole outdoors, camping in the rough and climbing a real rock wall was the idea of the new CEO at the company. A “bonding exercise” he’d called it. And since Shepherd’s Anglers was an outdoor sports company, what better way to “bond” than with a mandatory outdoor adventure?
But not *everyone* who worked at Shepherd’s was the outdoorsy type. Certainly not Les. There had to be others. What about… Jim? *He’d* managed to get out of the trip. Oh, sure, he *claimed* he’d sprained his ankle the day before they were to leave. Even had a doctor’s note about it. Les wondered if Jim had something on the doctor to get him to write a fake note.
“Les! Pay attention!” Charlotte, who was standing with Shauna m, snapped.
Les’s fingers slipped and he felt the skin tear as he tried to tighten his grip so he wouldn’t fall.
“I *am* paying attention, Char.” He gritted. “Please stop distracting me so I can figure this out and keep moving.”
He could swear he heard her huff out a snort. “He’s not really trying, Shaun.” She said in a loud whisper to Shauna.
Les really wished his mom hadn’t raised him not to hit girls. He felt like hitting one of his two tormenters right now would be considered justified. By everyone except his mom.
“If you were paying attention, Les,” Shauna’s voice came with an overly sweet tone he’d learned meant she really wanted to snap out a rude comment, but the CEO was nearby so she at least pretended to try being nice. “If you really were,” she emphasized. “You’d have noticed there’s another finger hold about six inches up and in from where your right had is currently stuck.”
Les actually had already noticed it. He just wasn’t ready to release his grip. He didn’t feel at all secure and was sure if he let go long enough to move his hand he’d plummet to the ground. Still gritting his teeth and striving to hide his annoyance he nodded slightly.
“Yes, thank you, Shauna. I’ve already seen it. I’ll move to it when I’m ready. Obviously, I’m not ready, yet.”
“Sometimes you just gotta do it, Les.” Charlotte called out, her tone turning irritated. “Sometimes it’s better to rip the band-aide off rather than peel it slowly.”
“Y’know, Charlotte, I’m trying to *avoid* band-aides of any type. I’m not the impulsive sort, like you and Shauna. I think things through. It’s why I’m a blasted accountant, not an athlete. Now, please! Let me do this in my own time!”
“If you’re not the impulsive type, Les, ol’ boy, how’d you end up up there climbing the cliff face, instead of down here, watching us do it right?” Shauna taunted.
And that was exactly the problem. Les knew how he’d ended up up here. He *had* been impulsive. He’d wanted to look good to the CEO and he’d wanted to impress the ladies on the team. Unfortunately, the other employees had gone down to the river for another exercise with only Shauna, Charlotte, and the CEO staying for this one. And neither woman seemed impressed so far.
“I think you should just take the leap, Les.” Called Charlotte. “Just give in. Let go. Have some faith. We’ll catch you.” She snickered.
“In you two?” He snorted, then nearly sneezed at the dust he stirred up. “Not likely. I’ve seen you operate. I’d end up being Charlie Brown to your double-whammy Lucy. I’ll get where I need to in my own time. You can just wait.”
“You know that the longer you take, the harder it gets, don’t you?” Charlotte called out a minute later.
Les wished he had some snappy come-back but he could feel his muscles wanting to cramp and his fingers were bleeding slightly from the rock tearing at them when he slipped in his climb. Ignoring Charlotte and Shauna he pressed his lips together, firmed his jaw and moved his hand to a new hand-hold.
“Whoa! Wait! Not so fast! Watch it! Don’t!” The women nearly screamed over each other.
“What! What is it!?” Les demanded. He started to turn his head but felt gravity tug at him and chose to remain frozen.
“What? What’s going on?” He prodded.
“Well… ahh…” Charlotte stammered.
“It’s just… uhm…” Shauna tried.
Clear laughter floated from behind all of them as the CEO, Terrence James, bent double, trying to regain control of his mirth. Les continued to demand an answer while his co-workers fumbled with words.
Finally, Terrence managed to explain.
“I’m sorry, Les. The women were concerned because you almost put your hand on a large stick and they thought it was a snake.” Terrence was still laughing.
Terrence’s laughter doubled when Les squealed “Snake!” like a little girl and lost his grip. The two women screamed, running forward to catch him as he fell all of four feet to the ground below. He landed hard on his rear then plopped over backwards, his eyes on the cliff he’d been, he thought, climbing. Sure enough, just six feet off the ground, was a stick that had grown with an odd twist to it and, from the ground, looked enough like a snake to give him pause. Especially when a slight breeze came up and caused it to move a bit.
He tilted his head back to look at the others upside down. Charlotte and Shauna had their hands over their mouths, eyes wide as they stared from him to the stick and back. Terrence was still working to control his laughter and make sure Les was unhurt.
Finally giving in, Les sat up and shook his head with a slight grin. “Hope you don’t expect us all to be outdoor athletes. Looks like some of us are just meant to stay inside.”
Terrence grinned. “It’s fine, Les. This was to give me a chance to learn about my employees, not turn them into carbon copies of myself. I definitely learned you’re not the type to give up easily and you’ll work hard even if you don’t get good support.”
He glanced at the two abashed women. They looked at each other, then down at Lester.
“I’m sorry, Les. The boss it right. I wasn’t being very supportive.” Charlotte admitted.
Shauna shrugged, trying to look repentant and not succeeding too well as she apologized, too. Shaking his head again Les got to his feet. “Don’t worry, ladies. I’m not ready to give up but I’ll let one of you tackle it, next. And no hard feelings.”
Later that night, lying in his tent, Lester suppressed a groan as he turned over. The camp was quiet with everyone settled in for the night and he didn’t want any more teasing. Every muscle ached but he’d finally gotten to the top of the twelve foot cliff. Rock walls in the real world were very different than the ones in gyms. He had the aches and pains, as well as the bruises, to prove it.
But he’d earned his new boss’s respect. And, apparently, his admiration. Lester eased into another turn on the air mattress he’d found in his tent when he’d gotten back. Terrence had winked and commented that, sometimes, hard work was more than its own reward.