“I gotta go, Laura,” Heather said quickly into the receiver. “I’ll talk to you on Friday.”
Heather tossed and turned for most of the night on her lumpy mattress. She almost convinced herself that maybe Terence hadn’t actually heard her talking about him, but the memory of the crushed expression on Terence’s face squashed that hope. She kept replaying the conversation in her head, what he must have heard: “I would have just let him fall if I’d known I’d get this reaction.”
Those words now sounded so cruel.
Before finally drifting off to sleep, Heather decided the only thing she could do was apologize. It was her only option.
The next morning came much too early. After a rough night of poor sleep and a guilty conscious, Heather did not want to face the new day.
“Let’s just get this over with,” she said to herself, groaning as she hoisted herself up off the mattress.
Almost everyone was already down eating breakfast when Heather got to the dining area. She looked around, but could not see Terence anywhere. She walked over to Pete, who was helping himself to a stack of pancakes warming under a heat lamp.
“Where’s Terence?” she asked.
He shrugged, unconcerned. “I dunno,” he said.
Heather poured herself a bowl of cold cereal and wondered what to do. Should she go check on him? Was it considered unprofessional to check on a co-worker of the opposite sex when they could still be in bed? That was a question she never thought would roll through her head.
Breakfast was over and there was still no sign of Terence.
John and Lars moved the group to the conference room, where they would be doing some team-building exercises. Heather caught hold of Alan, one of the newer members of their staff, on the way in to the conference room and sent him off to check on Terence.
They spent most of the morning playing communication games, learning how to listen and convey information accurately and role playing scenarios of conflict resolution. Alan had returned without Terence. He shrugged and shook his head when Heather looked pointedly at him.
“He said he is sick,” Alan said.
At lunch Heather went up to Terence’s room herself. She knocked on the door, calling his name. There was no response.
“Terence, come on, I know you’re in there,” Heather said, getting a little annoyed. This was going far enough.
Finally Terence answered the door, but he wouldn’t look into her face. He kept looking down at his hands instead.
“Look, Terence, I’ve been wanting to talk to you,” Heather started. He looked to the side awkwardly, like if he angled himself far enough away from her he wouldn’t have to hear what she said.
“Terence, look at me. I’m sorry for what you heard last night. I really am. I don’t know what else to say.”
They stood there silently for a few moments. Heather kept waiting for a response, but he wasn’t giving one.
“Are we okay?” she asked finally. “I really am sorry. Now can you come down and join the rest of the team?”
Terence mumbled an assent and followed Heather down to the dining room.
Maybe it will just take a little while to get over the awkwardness, Heather thought. But Terence continued to avoid being near Heather or even look at her.
Lars came into the dining room carrying a tray of brownies and Heather bolted up to talk to him before Martina could get her talons into him again. Heather greatly needed the distraction. This situation with Terence was emotionally draining.
Plus those brownies looked awfully good.
“Who can resist chocolate?” she asked as she approached Lars standing at the counter. She felt strange flirting with this guy, but things just seemed to roll out of her mouth whenever she saw him.
Lars laughed and handed her a brownie.
“I made them myself,” he said, smiling.
“All on your own, huh?” Heather asked. “Muscles and cooking skills, I’m impressed.”
“Yeah, well, I can follow directions on the back of the box as well as the next guy.”
“You’d be surprised at how difficult it is for most men to follow any of those directions,” Heather teased.
They laughed together loudly over a few cooking catastrophy stories, until Heather looked across the room and saw Martina staring at her, jealousy written all over her face. She also noticed Terence sitting at the next table by himself, his sandwich held halfway to his mouth, as though frozen in mid-bite. He was watching her and Lars with a stricken look on his face. He suddenly dropped his sandwich and ran from the room.
“Oh boy,” Heather said, smiling wryly at Lars. “Looks like it’s time to rally the troops.”
Martina swept in the instant Heather left Lars’ side.
Could this day get any worse?
After begging and pleading for him to join them, Heather was finally able to coax Terence back to the lobby where everyone was meeting for the final exercise of the day.
“All right, folks,” John said loudly, getting everyone’s attention. “Our last class of the day will be outside. It’s a little wet, so we have some rain gear you can borrow.” He motioned to a large plastic bin full of army green rubber boots and a stack of plastic parkas.
The group rummaged through the bin, trying to locate matching boots, and arguing over sizes needed. Heather ended up with a pair way too big for her feet, but it was better than soaking through her canvas sneakers. She donned the yellow plastic poncho and felt like a complete fool.
Oh yeah, this is a hot ensemble, she thought.
Looking up, she saw Lars helping Martina put some boots on. He had his own personal gear on, which meant he didn’t have to look like an overstuffed rubber duck. He looked up at her as she pulled the poncho over her head, giving her a little wink. Heather flushed, wishing she had brought her own rain gear so she wouldn’t have to be seen in this getup, but appreciating the attention all the same.
The group made their way outside, where the rain was coming down in a light drizzle. They followed John to the same trail they had used the last few days in their outside exercises, but then took a fork in the path that was new. The path was muddy and full of large rain puddles, making Heather grateful for the boots, even if they did not fit well. She could hear Martina behind her, complaining about the mud and clinging tightly to Lars’ arm, saying she needed his help to steady her. She was good, Heather had to admit. The trail ended in an open green meadow, surrounded by tall dripping trees.
John instructed them to stand in a large circle. Lars extracted himself from Martina and made his way around the circle to stand next to John.
“This is the Circle of Affirmation,” John said to the group. “In this circle we speak words of truth and words of recognition. When we build each other up, we only make our circle stronger. When we tear each other down, we weaken our circle. A broken circle is not whole. A broken circle will not function properly. A broken circle will inhibit the progress of the entire team.”
Heather’s gut began to churn. What were they going to have to do?
“You will each go around the circle, pointing out the positive qualities of each person in the circle. It can be an acknowledgement of a job well-done or recognition of their positive traits, anything that would help build them up.”
John instructed Pete to start the process. He started around the circle in a half-hearted attempt at compliance, pointing out worthless traits for each person. Roger is good at remembering passwords, Terence is excellent at picking his nose in private, Martina has a smokin’ hot…
John stopped Pete before he could finish the thought. He looked angrily around the circle. “This is serious business, folks!” he barked. “Do you think it is a game? We are trying to build up a team, not waste our time standing in the mud!”
Heather felt her blood pressure rise. Pete was being completely unprofessional, and now it made her look bad since she was the leader of the team. How was she going to explain this to Taz? She could have kicked Pete in the shin.
Terence raised his hand timidly, as though he was in elementary school waiting to be called on by the teacher. John looked surprised. “Yes?” he asked.
“Make Heather go first,” he said, pointing at her across the circle. “She’s supposed to be our team leader. She should start it off. I want to hear what she has to say when she can only tell the truth.”
There was a stunned silence.
“W-what??” Heather asked, bewildered.
“Tell us how you really feel about us, not what you normally say to our faces. Tell us how you feel when our backs are turned!” Terence said hotly, increasing in confidence and volume as his speech progressed.
Everyone turned to look at Heather, John and Lars included.
Suddenly it was like a spark exploded in Heather’s head, making her ears roar. How dare he talk to her like that? How dare he humiliate her in front of everyone, including Lars?
“What do you think you are doing, Terence?” she practically shouted, but her voice sounded muffled in the wet air. It didn’t matter. Now that the dam had burst, Heather could no longer keep the flood of frustrated emotions from pouring out. “I apologized for what I said earlier, but you won’t let it go! You’ve been moping around all day, and it’s all I can do to keep this stupid group together! What were you thinking, suggesting we all come out to the mountains together? Did you think we would all become a happy family? Did you think all these techie geeks would be your friends? All they care about is when the next comic book conference is scheduled. What were you expecting??”
Just then a bright flash of lightning illuminated the meadow, followed quickly by a boom of thunder. Everyone remained rooted in the spot, however, glaring at Heather.
“You think we’re stupid?” Gary asked.
“You think we don’t care?” Alan said, looking between Heather and Terence.
Martina stepped forward, putting her arm around Terence and looking pointedly at Heather. “I think you’re the one who doesn’t care,” she said, then guided Terence back toward the path, the others quickly following behind glaring at Heather as they left.
There was another burst of light and a boom of thunder. Then it seemed like an entire bucket of water was dumped over Heather’s head, as the rain began to fall in sheets.