Schaffer and his adopted pack are visited by a shuttle pilot.
Everyone, that was, except Linda Cullen.
Dawn first met Linda about a month or so after she'd started working at Medger. In the break room, several of the techs and mechanics were waxing poetic about drug-toking hippies from the Southwest. Not surprising, much of their speculation surrounded Dawn and her extended family.
"That's ridiculous, Al," a melodious voice interrupted from the doorway, addressing the ringleader. "That's like saying that everybody in Iowa is a gun toting halfwit farmer with a two inch prick, and we all know that that only applies to one family in town."
The room erupted in laughter and several guys standing near the door parted to admit the voice's owner. The woman who'd come to her defense was stunning, nearly six feet tall with reddish brown curls that cascaded over broad shoulders partway down her back. Her green eyes sparkled with triumph and humor, and her smile revealed a set of white, even teeth. Even in the loosely cut expensive suit her breasts were large and prominent, and her waist looked just wide enough to support her impressive upper torso. If this were a TV show, this woman would be the head of some rich and powerful family that had their way with everyone around them. She extended a well-manicured hand.
"Hi, I'm Linda. On behalf of the entire Midwest, I'd like to apologize. It never fails; marry a cousin, sire an asshole."
Dawn took the woman's hand as laughter exploded again. The woman took a seat at Dawn's table and within minutes the break room cleared. The woman seemed nice enough, but for some reason she made the others nervous. Anyone that made them uncomfortable was more than welcome in her book. After lunch, while Dawn sat in the cashier's cage and read a book, Ray Wells paid her a visit. He'd been the next most vocal in the break room, and it seemed he was still bristling at Linda's intervention.
"Just because you made friends with Ms. Cullen doesn't make you any less of a freak," he hissed. Dawn reached her breaking point.
"What the fuck are you babbling about, you goddamn moron?" she shrieked. "I don't know what your problem is, but go take it out on someone else! I'm not fucking here to be abused by your dumbass!"
She started bawling as all of the fear and anger and feelings of not belonging pushed through to the surface. People stared at her (customers as well as employees), while Ray wore the satisfied look of a playground bully that finally got one up on the teacher's pet. The woman that had befriended her in the break room materialized from somewhere behind her.
"Come with me honey," she soothed. "Let's go someplace quiet."
Dawn let herself be led away, embarrassed by her outburst but unable to calm down. They walked down the corridor to the executive suite, where the woman steered her into a well-appointed office and closed the door behind them. After she got Dawn settled she produced a cup of steaming coffee. Dawn sipped it gratefully.
"Why don't you go in there and clean up," the woman suggested, gesturing toward a small bathroom connected to the office.
It took Dawn about 15 minutes to get herself together. When she emerged, she took a good look around. There were plaques and pictures everywhere, including one with Linda and Bill Medger (who, in addition to owning the AutoPark, had been mayor of Newton twice). It finally dawned on her who her new friend was: Linda Cullen, Vice President - Internet Sales, the only female executive at Medger, and one of the few executives period that wasn't related to the old man. She'd built what was intended to be a throw away department (internet sales wasn't even paid on commission) into one of the top performing sales groups in the state and the most profitable of all of the Medger teams. Linda Cullen walked on water, at least as far as the old man was concerned.
"I'm SO sorry, Ms. Cullen," she stammered self-consciously.
Linda patted the sofa beside her. "In the break room I was just Linda; the same is true in here."
Dawn took a seat next to her.