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Authors: Ann Walker

Love In The Jungle

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Love In The Jungle

by

Ann Walker

Copyright © 2015 by Ann Walker

This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any persons,
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely
coincidental.

Love In The Jungle

All rights reserved.

This book is protected under the copyright
laws of the United States of America. No part of this work may be used,
reproduced, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopying, recording and faxing, or by any information
storage and retrieval system by anyone but the purchaser for their own personal
use.

This book may not be reproduced in any form
without the express written permission of Ann Walker, except in the case of a
reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages for the sake of a review written
for inclusions in a magazine, newspaper, or journal—and these cases require
written approval from Ann Walker prior to publication. Any reproduction or
other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without
the express written permission of the author.

Chapter One

“C
lara?” My boss’s voice cut through my thoughts,
and my cheeks flushed when I realized I’d spaced-out while seated on the other
side of his unnecessarily enormous desk. “Do you understand what’s required of
you? I thought the email was pretty clear.”

I swallowed hard, hating the way he talked to me like I was
a third grader who didn’t understand a math problem. Sure, the email had been
informative in the succinct manner that I was accustomed to from the
higher-ups, but that didn’t mean I was okay with the content. I wasn’t spaced
out and dreaming about hunks or anything; my mind was a mess with what I’d been
tasked with, and I’d found it hard to concentrate on anything since that email
found its way into my inbox.

“I just…” I trailed off with a sigh, then shook my head.
“Hal, this is a lot to ask of—”

I noticed his jaw clench somewhat before he remarked, “It’s
your job, Clara.”

I wasn’t going to say that it was a lot to ask of
me
.
No, it was a lot to ask of the managers I had to break the news to. The company
had a very tight year, and it was my responsibility to tell all the in-store
managers—who worked hard to push our electronics year-round—that they needed to
cut employees, then cut the remaining workers’ hours as much as possible. Too
much competition in the market to keep going the way we were, apparently.

“Time to make some cutbacks. Fire some underlings. Do a bit
of restructuring”. I said under my breath.

It didn’t feel right to me. I’d been one of those sales
associates in high school. I’d worked there to finance my university business
degree, and the company had been good to me ever since. Hell, I was one of the
few women in the senior tiers of the entire company.

I should have been grateful I wasn’t in here to get fired, I
guess. Maybe I should have sent a thank-you email to Hal for not firing me
through the computer. But it didn’t sit right with me. I’d rather take a salary
cut than lay off hundreds of hardworking people across the country. Our store
was nationwide, with major outlets in almost every state except Alaska and
Hawaii. In my opinion, we could afford to keep our people.

But no one wanted to listen to the chief PR executive
because I don’t deal with numbers—I give the company a shiny, smiling face for
the public, and I make sure my legion of HR folks do their jobs right and don’t
get sued by a disgruntled employee.

Aside from it being a questionable moral decision, letting
go of this many workers was going to be a PR nightmare.

“I’m going to have to think this over,” I insisted after a
slight pause.

His thick eyebrows shot up as he glared at me. We’ have
always gotten along, but I felt Hal was looking for ways to replace me with
someone who didn’t question his decisions. I mean, who could blame him?
Regardless, I figured he needed someone around to question his ethics from
time-to-time—like now, for instance.

“What’s to think over?” He held up his hand when I drew a
breath to speak. “No, it’s really simple. This order comes from the higher-ups…
higher up than me. You take your assignment; you spread the word to management,
and you follow-up to make sure they’ve cut the hours. End of story.”

“But Hal—”

“We’re not discussing this further,” he said dismissively,
his eyes flicking toward the door. “I only called you in here because you
hadn’t replied to the email to confirm you received it. I expect you to carry
out your job by the end of the day.”

I hesitated before leaving, and Hal let out a long sigh.

“Part of working at corporate is making the tough decisions,
Clara,” he told me. He then turned on his desktop monitor and began clacking
away at his computer. “You can’t care what other people think of you if you
want to survive here.”

Biting down hard on the insides of my cheeks to keep from
snapping, I pushed the chair back and stood.

“Thanks, Hal.”

There was no way in hell I was going to do this—not by the
end of the day, anyway. After slipping out of his office, I grabbed my coat and
purse, told the receptionist I was headed to lunch with a vendor, and called it
a day. I needed to think, to consider my future career at the company, and I
definitely couldn’t do it surrounded by other corporate vultures.

My options were limited, but once I set them out, the
decision was easy. Either I instruct managers to lay off hundreds and hundreds
of people across the country, or I piss off Hal.

From my bench at a local park, a place I often went to work
out some of my heavier problems, I grinned: pissing off Hal was practically my
favorite pastime already.

Bring it on.

****

“Honey, it sounds like you made the
right decision.” I bit my lip, my stare glazed over as my dad’s voice sounded
in my ear. “I mean, would you really want to invest your career in a company
who does something like that?”

“I guess not,” I sighed, but my words were unconvincing to
both of us. I sounded miserable, and I was fully aware of it. I mean, how can I
not be? With a stereotypical white box filled with my desk’s contents sitting
on the couch beside me, I had every right to be miserable; I’d been fired.

Apparently Hal did not appreciate my combative attitude on
the issue, and after a forty minute meeting where I tried to argue against the
ruling, occasionally pointing out senior-level employee salaries that could be
cut back to make up for budget issues, he told me he’d have to let me go.

“We planned to merge PR and HR one of these days anyway,”
he’d told me as I openly gawked at him. “We need team players, Clara, and I’m
afraid you’re not cutting it anymore.”

In that moment, I’d questioned my stance on the whole issue,
and it had apparently come down to me losing my job—or them. In the end, I
shook his hand because that’s how I’d been raised, then I was left to pack my
things. My coworkers, the ones who I got along with best, were devastated to
see me go, and I’d sat in my car crying for a full twenty minutes before I left
the parking lot.

A part of me wanted to take this to a labor board. We
weren’t unionized at the company or anything drastic like that, but I was
pretty sure this was a wrongful termination if I’d ever seen one. The more I
sulked at home, however, the more I wondered if corporate life was for me. I
loved business, but politics weren’t my game—never had been, never would be.

“Think of all the free time you have now,” Dad said.

I know he was trying to be helpful, but my dad’s words made
my eyes prickle with tears, and I ran my fingers under to collect some of the
watery mascara.

“I guess.”

“You’re a bright girl,” he continued, and I could hear the
clatter of dishes in the background. He was cleaning up after his lunch,
pleasantly enjoying retirement as the rest of us slaved away every day. Well,
the rest of them. No more of that for me. “Some lucky company is going to
snatch you right up.”

I shrugged. Working in public relations had become a pretty
popular gig these days, and even though the job market hadn’t been saturated
with people when I graduated university five years ago, it was pretty
competitive now.

“But take a breather,” he asserted firmly. “I bet you’re a
little worn out anyway, and there’s no sense in running yourself ragged to find
something new right away. You have savings, right?”

“Yup,” I said, picking at the track-pants I’d practically
fallen into as soon as I was home. “Plenty of that.”

Even if the company had its problems, I’d always been paid
well. By my rough estimates, I could keep paying my rent and car payments for
another eight months before I needed to delve too far into my savings. Money
wasn’t the problem. Morale, on the other hand, could probably use a boost or
two.

“I’ve never been fired before,” I muttered, my voice losing
a bit of its strength. “Dad… It’s humiliating.”

“You were fired for something you believe in.” I heard the
kettle shrieking in the background, and sighed. “I know it doesn’t make it any
better today, but one day you’ll look back on this knowing that you did the
right thing.”

“They’ll just get someone else to do the cutting,” I argued,
suddenly feeling a little stupid. “People are still going to be let go… I’m
just one of them now too.”

“Sleep on it.”

I fell quiet for a long moment, my mind a mess of incoherent
thoughts, broken only by my dad’s voice. “So, what else is new?”

I didn’t have it in me to make chitchat about the rest of my
life; work had been all-consuming this past year, so I didn’t exactly have time
for much of a social life. Maybe now I could… see movies, or something. After
giving my dad an adequate rundown of my pathetic social endeavors as of late,
which included finding a sale on detergent at the grocery store down the street
from me and a solo trip to a music festival in my favorite park for all of
thirty seconds (I’d been exhausted from a full day at the office), I made my
excuses and said my goodbyes.

Mom was going to call me when she got home from work, so I
had that exciting conversation to look forward to, during which I was sure I’d
rehash everything from today in agonizing detail as she chirped about silver
linings.

Too depressed to sort through my desk things, I grabbed the
remote and turned on the TV, then buried myself beneath a quilt. At least good
ol’ TV had no desire to analyze my recent firing. Good ol’ TV was always there
to distract, never to judge. Besides, I can’t remember the last time I watched
TV in the afternoon, so there was that.

Chapter Two

W
hy does everyone on social media look so
accomplished?

With one hand in a chip bowl, laptop perched on my knees,
and my free hand strictly for scrolling, I wasted away yet another unemployed
day online. A week had gone by since I’d been “let go” from the company, and I
could slowly feel all my brainpower oozing out of me with each unproductive day
that passed. I had also taken up talking to myself while puttering around my
apartment, an embarrassing tic I hadn’t ever done before. Most of my friends
were coupled up, but I still had the opportunity to grab drinks and dinner here
and there—each time winding up spectacularly drunk and blaming it on my recent
firing.

But everyone I knew worked during the day; had weird hours
that saw them snoozing in the afternoons; or they traveled for work. So, while
my nights were open to the possibility of some social contact outside my
parents and my younger brother, my days were filled with, well, just me.

“ I’m not all that interesting, honestly.”

My online friend group is rife with drama, however, and I
could usually spend a few hours scrolling through all the various feeds. It was
like having reality TV without the commercials or drunken sobbing—unless you
counted
my
drunken sobbing. I’d branded the people I was friends with
and followed into two groups: accomplished adults and forever teenagers. A lot
of my high school friends were forever teenagers. Most of my college group was
accomplished adults.

I feel the more time I spend online I felt myself dangling
precariously between the two groups, threatening to drop off into the more
adolescent.

Scrolling through a Twitter feed from a girl I went to high
school with, I smirked at her incredibly passive-aggressive comments toward
another girl we mutually knew, and I felt like I was in twelfth grade all over
again. Once the 140 character posts turned into song lyrics, I clicked to
another tab, all the while feeding a continuous stream of chips in my mouth.
With my greasy blonde hair chucked up in a bun, chip crumbs on my chin and
ratty college t-shirt, I was definitely a pitiful sight.

But at least no one could see me slightly judging them from
the other side of a computer screen. Unfortunately, not much had changed since
the last time I ambled through my newsfeed, and I let out a defeated sigh.

It was at that moment that something caught my eye. It
wasn’t a snarky post or a depressed cry for attention, nor was it one of a
thousand pictures of people’s kids, but rather an advertisement. Usually, I
ignored the pleas for my business, each ad tailored to me based on my browsing
history, but the words in this one spoke to me.

Want to change your life? Want to be a life-changer?

Why yes. Yes I do want to change my life. Chewing my lower
lip for a moment, I threw caution to the wind and clicked the ad link,
surprised when I found myself on a volunteering website. There were all sorts
of places to dedicate one’s time to, but I was immediately drawn towards ones
that required a trip overseas. Lips pursed, I clicked through a few information
paragraphs.

“I’d always wanted to travel to Africa ….anywhere in Africa.”
I thought out loud.

I was fully aware that the continent had a range of beauty
from the mountains of Kilimanjaro to the spices sold in Morocco. The north,
south, east, and west are all vastly different from one another.

Chip bowl forgotten, I sat up and narrowed in on an
organization that taught children in rural villages. Their contact page listed
a representative in Kingston.

“That’s about an hour’s drive from home.” I thought to
myself.

Without giving it more than a passing thought, I grabbed my
phone and dialed the number.

****

“You have a variety of options to
pick from. Here’s a few brochures…”

“I actually looked through all of these online,” I said,
watching as Eileen, the representative from the volunteer organization, set the
papers back down on her desk. “There’s one in particular I was interested in.”

“Well that’s wonderful,” she offered with a smile, her hands
knitted together in front of her. “You know, we do have an online application
that you can fill out.”

I swallowed down my embarrassment, heat rushing to me
cheeks. “I…I just wanted to talk to someone about this, face-to-face.”

Her expression turned kind, and I let out a little breath
when she told me she understood that. Good. I couldn’t be the only one who
wanted to talk things over with an actual person. I’d seen the online
application before I drove out here. I’d read through all the FAQ pages, I’d
watched the videos that other volunteers made about their amazing trips abroad.
I’d done it all. As exciting as it all seemed, I couldn’t bring myself to commit
to something so… out there until I talked to someone.

It wasn’t crazy to volunteer, I know that. It wasn’t some
absurd idea that I might want to give back. But I’d spent years in the
corporate world, and before that I was working in retail dealing with awful
customers and finicky electronics. This was… different. This was a big, scary,
strange step that I felt odd taking through some online application. I wanted
to see a face. I’d spent a week looking at the website, perusing everything,
researching the trips I wanted to do.

But I needed to see someone nod and smile at me before I
applied. I wanted to hear that this was legitimate, that grown people my age
did this kind of stuff.

“Now, would you like to discuss any particular volunteer
opportunity?”

The phone rang beside her, but she pressed something to
silence the sound. Her office was much more hectic than I anticipated, as soon
as I stepped through the front door from the packed parking lot, it was like I
was back at my old company. There were computers, people, desks, filing
cabinets, the whole nine.

“I was back in the corporate world…with prettier pictures on
the wall”. I smiled at the ironic sentiment of my thought. “I’d like to teach
kids,” I explained, my legs pumping up and down with anxious energy. I’m not
sure why I was so nervous, it’s not like she knows me. This Eileen woman won’t
look at me and call me a fraud for wanting to teach. She doesn’t know I’ve only
ever worked in PR as a serious adult with a serious adult job. I wanted to do
something fun, and I’d always loved kids. This would be perfect…in theory.
“Preferably on one of your Africa trips.”

“There are several countries that are perfectly safe to
volunteer in for our Africa destinations,” she told me. “You can specify where
you’d like to go when you apply.”

“Great.”

“The kids are wonderful,” Eileen insisted with a nod. “I
think this is a great choice. We’ve always had the best feedback from these
excursions. Usually we coordinate our teachers with our builders, and you’d go
over with a group.”

That was a relief. As much as I wanted to stand on my own
two feet, maybe patch myself up after getting fired, I wasn’t sure if I could
go to some remote location across the world alone.

“You can choose from different timespans abroad,” she told
me brightly; though I had a sinking suspicion she’d recited this same speech
hundreds of times over to different volunteers. Eileen still managed to slip a
brochure my way, which I then stuffed in my purse. “Six months is the shortest,
two years is the longest. We usually recommend six months for first-timers.”

I nodded. “That makes sense.”

I guess. Six months is still quite a hefty chunk of time
spent away from home, and I wondered the average age of volunteers applying to
the organization. I mean, high school kids couldn’t go for that long, and
college kids were probably in the same boat. So, most of these volunteers had
to be established adults who had time to spend not making money in some foreign
country.

But that wasn’t why I was doing it. I mean, we had to
pay
to volunteer, so money was the furthest thing from my mind.

We danced around the application process for another fifteen
minutes, and after I’d exhausted all my questions, like “will I be able to get
tampons if I run out?”—I shook Eileen’s hand and left. Head held high, I
wandered back to my car, a pleasant sense of determination taking over.

I sent in my application from my tablet while still in the
parking lot with no regrets.

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