Hunter Gets Harassed (last (!) part)

“Still, this case is unusual,” Mr. Blanchard continued after he’d heard both sides of the story, “in that we also have a complaint of sexual harassment on the part of a good-looking young man, and I have to admit that, in all the years I’ve been adjudicating sexual harassment cases for this network, I’ve never come across a man accusing a woman. Therefore I think that the rule that the woman is always to be believed can be set aside here.”

Michelle raised her hand. She was holding a pen in it.

Mr. Blanchard was about to continue his speech, but couldn’t very well ignore Michelle. I reckon he could have said “save all questions until the end” – and he probably didn’t like being interrupted in his big moment, but Michelle must have realized that he was probably going to go on for another while and she might miss her chance.

“Yes, counsel?,” he asked. “Is there something you wish to add?”

“Yes,” Michelle said. “I believe there is someone else whose story you should hear before deciding. We have him waiting down the hall.”

There was some whispering around the head of the table. I could make out that someone, probably one of the network’s lawyers, had gotten Bryce’s statement but hadn’t read it, even though Matt told me they wrote “URGENT” on it like a hundred times.

“We don’t generally hear witnesses at proceedings like this, let alone surprise witnesses,” Blanchard, “but the business affairs people here tell us that you did apparently send them this witness’ statement this morning. I’m rather embarrassed to say that it went unopened, which I don’t suppose says much in favor of our legal department here.” The younger of the two people I figured were the lawyers looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole and pull it in after him. But that was good news for me, I reckoned.

“This isn’t how we usually conduct these hearings, but I guess we do owe it to Mr. Block to hear his witness.”

My accuser’s lawyer jumped out of his seat.

“I object!,” he said. It was really like something off the TV.

“This isn’t a court of law,” Mr. Blanchard said, “and we don’t have objections. I don’t think there is anything in the network’s sexual harassment policy that says we can’t hear witnesses…is there?”

The two lawyers scanned some papers and whispered what I could tell was ‘no’ to Mr. Blanchard.

“Well…then…it’s not getting any earlier, so let’s have this witness. I hope he’s as important as you say he is.”

Matt was already on his feet and out the door to get Bryce, who appeared what seemed like seconds later. He clearly hadn’t walked slowly down the hallway. Matt was red and out of breath too.

“Our witness,” Michelle said, unable to suppress a smile. “Bryce Green.”

“You look familiar,” said Mr. Blanchard.

“I used to work here,” Bryce said. “And I had a part on Seattle Six.”

“Ah,” said Mr. Blanchard, clearly still not having placed Bryce, which surprised me. People who look like Bryce aren’t easy to forget, but, maybe, if you’re a network VP, all the highly good-looking people you see start to run together.

I didn’t want to stare at the woman who accused me, but I couldn’t resist trying to get a look at her when Bryce came in the room. If I had any doubts about Bryce’s story being true (and I really didn’t…I’d trust Keaton with my life), they were resolved the second I saw her face. It was all happening very quickly, but I remember thinking how odd it was that she thought the loose ends she left with Bryce wouldn’t catch up with her one day.

“So, Mr.….Green,” Mr. Blanchard said after Bryce took the only seat available, the one at the foot of the conference table, which put him between me on his right and the opposition’s lawyer on his left. “What is this story that’s so important for us to hear? Does it really have bearing on Mr. Block’s case?”

“Yes it does,” Bryce said. I could tell he was a little nervous.

“Then if you’d like to enlighten us…?”

So Bryce went into his story. He told it very well, and kept everyone in the room attentive throughout the whole thing. Michelle didn’t prompt him once. The younger of the network’s lawyers was involved on his computer for some time; it turned out he was verifying what parts of Bryce’s story could be verified. Indeed, when Bryce was finished, Mr. Blanchard turned right away to the lawyer dude to see if it was backed up by Bryce’s HR records. Of course it all was – Keaton and the PI had hacked the network’s HR database to find Bryce in the first place, so I knew his story would check out.

I was sweating inside my buttoned collar. I’ve told y’all that I like getting sweaty…but not that way. When you’re sweating on a ball field, you’re not sitting under an air conditioning vent that makes you wet and cold as well as hot at the same time.

There was a long silence after Bryce finished. It was broken by the woman who harassed both me and Bryce.

“Fine,” she said, “let’s assume what he’s saying is true. It doesn’t mean that Hunter didn’t come on to me and expect sexual favors.”

“Actually,” said Mr. Blanchard, a little apologetically and a little sarcastically, “it does. At least as far as I’m concerned. Mr. Green’s story checks out with our HR files, and I do remember him from when he was on Seattle Six. I knew his face was familiar. He did work under you, and you did promote his career.”

“Isn’t it my job to try and discover new talent?”

“Not that way,” Mr. Blanchard said in a way that shut her up, and shut her up fast.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and Matt put his reassuring hand back on my shoulder, although this time it meant that he knew we won.

“Thank you, Mr. Green for coming forward and helping to clear this matter up. I don’t know how we would have settled it without you. Mr. Block,” Mr. Blanchard continued, turning to me, “I guess – or, as they say in your part of the world, I reckon – that we owe you an apology. I’m sure this has been extremely stressful for you, as an innocent party” here he turned to my accuser “falsely accused.”

No, he didn’t go on to say that they were sorry for not having believed me in the first place, but that was too much to expect, and I wasn’t going to stand on ceremony. I was just glad to be in the clear, and still have a job and a place to live. I also really wanted to get out of that conference room, away from that woman who put me through such hell, and to get to tell Keaton, Maya and Robert the good news back in the other conference room. I also had to call Dad and Joyce and Meemaw with the good news.

It was actually pretty lameass how Mr. Blanchard ended the meeting. He just kinda waved his hands and said “I guess that’s all, folks” and the people at his end of the table stood up and started clearing out. I didn’t look back at the woman who created this whole mess for me, and the younger lawyer stopped on his way out to let me, Michelle, Matt and Bryce leave the room first. I wasn’t sure which way the other conference room was, since I’d been so out of it when I’d walked it in the other way, but Matt steered me in the right direction after I almost set off in the wrong one.

“I can tell from your smile, bubba, that it turned out like it should have,” said Keaton, who was standing up (and, I later learned from Maya, had been pacing the whole time Bryce was in there.)

“Is this true?,” asked Maya.

“Yep,” I said. “100% vindicated and exonerated and…”

“Exculpated,” supplied Michelle with a smile.

This time I took one of the bottles of water and gulped it down. Bryce did the same. We both talked a lot that afternoon.

We were about to get our stuff ready to leave when both the lawyers from the hearing came into the smaller conference room.

“Mr. Blanchard just wanted us to remind you, Hunter, that everything goes back to the way it was, and you guys can go back to the show as usual,” said the older one, who I guess didn’t know that we were still filming the show like we always did. “And, personally, I’m sorry you had to go through all this. It probably shouldn’t have gotten this far.”

“It’s all good,” I said, lying, but lucky I’m not someone who gets mad, or I’d have been fuckin furious by that point.

“And what about Hunter’s false accuser?,” Bryce asked. We were all wondering, since Mr. Blanchard didn’t say anything about her while we were still in the big conference room.

“That’s…pending,” said the older lawyer. Given the way that dudes get thrown out on their asses for sexual harassment, I reckoned that was what was going to happen to her. Joyce said they should make sure that she never work in this town again, but, well…I’m still a Christian and I reckon I’m just not a very vindictive person. She should be fired, sure…but she shouldn’t have to starve, even if that’s what she was trying to do me. On the other hand, she also shouldn’t be allowed to do to any other guys what she did to me and Bryce. But I reckon that was for Mr. Blanchard to decide. I was just glad I wouldn’t have to see her nastyass face ever again.

“Shall we get out of here?,” Robert asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’ll call Dad and my girlfriend from the car.”

Keaton and I ended up face-to-face as we were filing out of the room.

“Thanks again, man,” I said.

Y’all probably can guess that Keaton gave his ‘you’re welcome’ growl.

“Fuck that,” I said, and I gave him a big hug. He deserved it for saving my ass, even if he’s not comfortable with gratitude. He shouldn’t be so awesome to his friends if he doesn’t want to get thanked.

I called Dad and Joyce from the car, just like I said I would. Traffic was at its rush hour worst, so there was plenty of time to tell Meemaw the whole story as well.

I was exhausted by the time we got home, and all I could think of doing was hitting the jacuzzi and following it with another cold shower. But Maya asked me to come to her office once I’d taken off my suit, and of course I said I would be there. I didn’t want to talk about anything else that day, but she’s the boss, she owns the jacuzzi, and it would still be there after she told me whatever it was she wanted to tell me.

So I went to the pool house – I half felt like kissing the floor in gratitude lol – took off my suit and changed into my ‘uniform’ of Dodgers tshirt and basketball shorts. I figured I could get away without socks, so I just put on flip-flops and headed over to the main house. I went in through the kitchen, and from there to my usual shortcut through the dining room, like I usually do.

And that’s where they all yelled ‘surprise!’. That’s all of them: Keaton, Bryce, Matt and Michelle included.

“Congratulations…or something,” Jacob said, giving me a hug.

“I still don’t know what it’s all about,” Matteo said, coming forward and hugging me too. “But I’m sure glad it’s over and that you’re gonna be ok.”

“You guys should thank Keaton, he’s the one who found Bryce, who saved my a…butt.”

“We know that word,” Matteo said. “And don’t worry, Mom,” he said, turning to Maya, “we didn’t learn it from Hunter.”

Belen was there too, with a cake that said “felicitaciones” on it, which she encouraged me to cut. It was a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, which is my favorite kind of chocolate cake.

“What would you have done if we didn’t win?,” I asked.

“I knew you would,” said Belen. “I asked the Virgen de Guadalupe to keep an eye on you, and the Virgencita always answers prayers.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Gracias.” Then she hugged me, too. There was a lot of hugging going on that afternoon. I was also starving, so I asked if we could cut the cake. Belen handed me a cake knife and told me to do the honors.

“Just remember you’re going to be running around shirtless on TV,” Maya said.

“I must have sweated off five pounds this afternoon.” (Boys: “ew!”) “I can afford a piece of Belen’s cake.” And Belen’s cakes are bombass. “But I will wait until later to have my beer for the day.”

So we had our cake, the boys went upstairs to do their homework and Maya said she needed to lie down after all the excitement. Keaton pulled a handful of Short Stories out and asked Robert if we could have them outside, even though it was still fuckin hot out there.

“Sure,” Robert said, “assuming there’s one for me.”

“Of course,” said Keaton. “You coming?,” he asked Bryce.

“It’ll be my first cigar,” he said, “but I reckon it’s a special occasion.”

So the four of us went out to the pool area and lit up our Short Stories. They don’t take all that long to smoke, but it was interesting being in a chill setting like that with Robert. I didn’t usually think of him as ‘one of the guys’, but he actually fit in very nicely, even if he’s probably ten years older than Keaton.

Cigars finished, the guys left and I was able to change into boardshorts and get into the jacuzzi, feeling incredibly grateful…

…and relieved. I don’t want to go through an ordeal like that again. Not just sexual harassment, although that was pretty bad and demeaning, but also being accused of something I didn’t do and having to go on trial for it. That was maybe the worst of it.

But it was over. And life could go back to normal.

Well…almost normal. Joyce developed a weirdass addiction while I was going through my crisis.

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