Spring had finally arrived. Crocuses were just starting to pop up, and weak sunshine timidly peaked through the trees. A young man crossed the street and slid into the London HSBC headquarters. William Crawford worked in the finance department as an advisor. His job was easy; show up, go to some meetings, sign some papers, and then go home. Working at HSBC also had a lot of perks including the extremely high pay. Naturally, with his new found wealth he moved into a large house on the most expensive street in London, Kensington Place Gardens, and bought a shiny, black Rolls Royce. Now do not get me wrong, William was not lazy, in fact he was a workaholic. Nothing mattered more to him than his job and he barely made to time to do anything else. He filled his otherwise easy work days with more work by taking over someone else’s load, or researching new opportunities to grow the company. Now at thirty-two years old, he wanted a raise, and a big one. The finance director was retiring and William wanted the job. There was a meeting today at nine to formally announce the news. That meeting would be the start of a very surprising day.
William walked through the doors and turned left towards the elevators. He rode up to the ninth floor and got off. The beige walls and tiny cubicles of the finance floor smelled like fresh paper off the copy machine. William dropped off his mahogany leather briefcase and black button-down coat in his office; he wanted to get settled before the meeting. William then walked down the hall to the break room to brew himself some black coffee. Returning to his desk, he got out a slim, white, half inch binder filled with lined paper and grabbed a dark red pocket folder where he kept all of his notes. Binder and folder in his left hand, and coffee in his right, William walked to the elevators and rode up.
When William walked into the large conference room on the twenty sixth floor it was exactly nine o'clock. He took a seat at the long dark wood table, setting his items in front of him. He then took out a blue ball point pen from his breast pocket and waited for the meeting to begin.
Stephen Howard, the finance director, was a large man. Despite his age, he had a voice that filled the room with a command that demanded respect. You did not want to mess with him. He had run HSBC as finance director for over twenty years, and now at fifty he was ready to retire and live the rest of his life sitting in his wealth. William had always admired Stephen. On William's first day at HSBC, Stephen made a point of making sure William was doing alright. Even after William got settled at the company, Stephen still seemed to give William some special treatment at times. Stephen often walked up behind William to peak over his shoulder while he worked, or brought lunch to him without William ever having to ask. William thought it was because he was especially good at his job, and that was why he wanted Stephen to give his job to William.
The meeting was pretty straight forward. It basically repeated what William already knew. Stephen was retiring and was looking for a successor. He wanted to give his job to someone who already worked for the company so that the work he had done would be picked up exactly where he left off. Interviews would be required of anyone applying for the job and he would email you your time immediately after the meeting. William walked into Stephen's office and sat down. William's interview was supposed to be at one o'clock, but Stephen was nowhere to be seen. William waited patiently for a few minutes and then got up. He started to pace. He was surprisingly nervous. After about five more minutes, William peeked out the office door and looked around. No one, not a single person in the hallway. Where is everyone? William wondered. He glanced at his watch, one twenty. The lunch break should be over by now. Thinking maybe Stephen had left a note on his desk giving an explanation; William walked back into the office and rounded the corner of the desk. No note. But something else caught his eye. A photograph. William slowly picked it up. The black and white photo was of a young man and woman sitting on the grass holding hands and laughing. Taking a closer look, the man seemed to be Stephen Howard. Then William looked at the woman. It was his mum.
How could this be? It must be a mistake. He looked again. It still looked like the photographs of his mum during high school that hung in their living room. William quickly pulled out his mobile and snapped a picture. He would look at it later. Just then Stephen walked in. William sat down in his seat and tried to act like everything was fine.
"Hello Mr. Crawford. How are you this afternoon?" Stephen asked.
"Fine, thank you Mr. Howard," William blandly replied.
"So, I see you want to take my job," Stephen joked.
"Yes," William responded without laughing.
"Well, what makes you think you can do that?" Stephen continued.
"I work hard, I get along with the other coworkers, I have done very well here," William said. And you seem to have a special connection to me, he thought.
"It also shows here that you are very qualified too," Stephen added.
"Yes, I graduated from Oxford," William replied. But you probably already new that, he added.
"Small world, so did I!" Stephen said joyfully. "Well I think I have enough information about you here, have a nice day and I will get back to you about the job," he added quickly. William ran out of there as fast as he could. He had some digging to do.
He was going home. For the first time in his life, William Crawford was leaving work early. He started driving, his black car speeding along. He only turned away from the road to look out the window. The radio buzzed quietly in the background as he glided off the main road and into the gated Kensington Palace Gardens. He pulled out his keys and slid them into the lock. Pushing the front door open, he laid his slick mahogany briefcase on the oak table. The foyer of the large grey stone house was silent. Dimly lit lights hung overhead the burgundy and gold rug. William went straight to his office. There was no time to waste; he had to get to the bottom of this. He picked up the phone and dialed his mum. Better to do it from home where he had some privacy.
"Hello?" William's mum said.
"Oh, um, hi mum," William said.
"William! I am so glad to hear from you! You have not called in ages!" his mum said excitedly.
"Yeh, um, I know," William shyly replied.
"Well, what is going on in your life? How are you?" William's mum continued.
"Yeh, um, fine, mum. Just fine. Uh, mum I am actually calling because I have a question for you," William answered.
"Sure honey. What is it?" William's mum asked.
"Do you know anyone named Stephen Howard?" William tentatively questioned.
"Is that someone who works with you, honey? Is he that guy who is retiring?" William's mum replied.
"Yes…" William answered skeptically.
"Maybe he will offer you his job?" William's mum continued. "That would be so kind of him”. William was getting scared. His mum did not know anything about his job, so how does she know about Stephen?
"Yes, that would be nice. Oh, and one last thing, mum," William said.
"Yes, honey," William's mum said.
"How do you know Stephen," William asked. There was long pause on the other end of the line as William waited for his mum to confess. But what? What did she need to confess?
"I do not know him, never met him," William's mum replied. "I got to go sweet heart. Love you! Call me soon!" And then she was gone.
William knew his mum knew Stephen. But, why exactly, and when? All that William could think of doing was to talk to Stephen.
Instead of going back to the office, William decided to call Stephen from home using his mobile. This way Stephen might never find out that he had left.
"Hello, Stephen Howard speaking," Stephen answered.
"Hi, Stephen. It is William. I just had a quick question for you," William said bravely. "Did you ever happen to meet someone named Janet Monroe?" William asked.
"Oh my. Oh, um. Yeh. Yeh, I have. I have met someone named Janet Monroe," Stephen replied tentatively.
"Do you care to elaborate?" William asked cautiously.
"Look, let me call Janet and we will meet you at Cafe Brera at six o'clock," Stephen said.
"Ok, see you then," William replied.
A few hours later William arrived at Cafe Brera, ready to face whatever the truth may be. He thought he could handle anything, but what he was about to hear would definitely put a test to that thought. His mum and Stephen were already there and had been talking about the best way to tell William the news. William took a seat at the table between his mum and Stephen.
"We have something to tell you," his mum started off slowly. "Stephen and I have known each other since high school," she continued. "And we were very close friends." So that explained the photo they took together, William thought.
"We were actually boyfriend and girlfriend," Stephen continued.
"Ok…." William said still confused as to why they were so secretive about it.
"And then we went our separate ways. Me to the University of London, and Stephen to Oxford," William's mum said.
"A little bit through my first year at the university, there was a surprise. It turned out I was pregnant. With you," William's mum continued. William sat dazed, unable to speak.
"She only told me after you had been born. I actually had no idea until you started kindergarten. She thought by that time it was important for me to know, just in case,” Stephen said. "It was a huge shock for me too."
"I wanted you to have a little bit of him wherever you went,” William's mum said motioning to Stephen. “He is your real father you know."
"Yeh. And I was a big part of your life even if you did not know it," Stephen continued. "I got you into Oxford, gave you the job at HSBC, found you that house, and I was going to give you that promotion too. I wanted you to always be near me and to take over what I had started. I wanted to be your dad even if you never knew who I was," Stephen said, choking up a little bit at the end.
"We know keeping this from you was probably not the right thing to do, but we hope you understand where we were coming from," William's mum interrupted. "We just wanted what was best for you." William did not know what to say. He felt like a deflated balloon. Where was he supposed to go from here? His whole life was a lie, every bit of him washed away by the cold, hard truth. There was not a paper he could sign or handbook he could read that would tell him what to do next. Throwing himself back into his work would not heal the wound he had just uncovered. William needed to get as far away from his old life as he could, he need to start over. But in life there is no restart button. It keeps on going whether you like it or not. Spring would eventually change into summer, and into fall after that. William would eventually change too, and he just had to hope it would be for the best.