Chapter One : The Points System

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"Big words, David. Big though naive." She smirked. "I think I'll have fun watching you try."

...

It's been three weeks since I declared I was gonna make the girl with the long auburn hair sitting next to me choose to fall in love with me. She was right to call my words "big" and "naive" 'cause that's what they were; In truth, I really had no idea what I was supposed to do to make it happen.

"David?"

I blinked my eyes to focus. Everybody sitting around the long conference table was looking at me. I wasn't exactly listening so I had no idea what they were all waiting on me for. This is embarrassing...

I turned to our vice president, the person who had called my name. "I'm sorry, sir. What was the question?"

He frowned before repeating what he'd asked me. "What's the update on the delivery of the busduct?"

"Oh, uh... The supplier's asking we release payment first before they deliver. I told him I cannot approve a progress billing if there's been no delivery yet so they're checking with their principal from Korea. Their representative promised to get back to me until this afternoon."

Our VP for Projects' frown deepened. He was a well-built man in his fifties with neatly kept curly hair, that had already turned completely white, and gray eyes. We saw pictures of him when he was but a young member of the engineering corps of the army and he had brown hair and eyes then. We all reckoned he has some Spanish blood in him because he had literally grayed with age. He retained his stern expression though, which probably helped his rise to Major General. General, as we all call him, retired and went to work for our company three years before I was hired; it's been two years since then.

"Why are they asking for payment for undelivered goods?" He asked.

"I asked Procurement and they said there was no down payment made to the supplier, that it was the agreement between the previous VP for Procurement and the supplier's Principal."

He clicked his tongue and his eyebrows furrowed. "That idiot." He muttered, referring to the newly-terminated VP.

"Just have partial retention released." Sam suddenly whispered from beside me that I slightly inclined my head towards her.

"Big words, David. Big though naive." Her words echoed again in my head. The distraction wasn't going to help me in my work predicament but apparently my head didn't really care.

"What?" I whispered back, forcing myself to focus on the situation at hand.

She rolled her dark, cat-like eyes at me. "The supplier has one other contract in Phase 1. Delivery's been completed, so we can release partial retention as long as they request it."

Ah. "You're right." And then to our VP I said in a louder voice. "Sir. We used the same supplier for the busduct in Phase 1. Samantha is suggesting we release partial retention instead since they've already completed that one."

The old man nodded. "Do that in the mean time. But make sure they don't ask for another release after we get that one out."

Phew. I turned to Sam and smiled, mouthing a thank you. She shrugged at me as if to say that what she did was no big deal.

As we were about to move on to the next agenda, the door suddenly burst open, revealing the furious face of our Project Director. He was just a few years younger than our VP but unlike the older man, his hair was still as dark as mine was, though already evidently thinning in the front. His eyes were also a dark shade of brown and his nose was a big, round stump in the middle of his round face. His built was also rounded, his stomach bulging through the tightness of his shirt tucked into his jeans. All in all, he was the complete opposite of our VP and looked like he was shorter, even though they were of the same height.

Our PD strode over to his usual seat beside our VP in a huff. He was obviously in a very bad mood this morning and whoever managed to get him this angry was certain to hear hell coming out of his mouth.

"How did it go Ramon? Were you able to trace where the leak was coming from?" General asked, referring to the water gushing out of the basement that was already being used as parking since the night before.

It was a difficult task to make sure nothing interfered with the operation of the three-basement parking and the three floors of restaurants below the twenty-story building we were still constructing. We argued before that it wasn't a good idea to open them last year since the condominium would take two more years, give and take, to finish, but top management wouldn't listen. They wanted to start earning money as soon as possible and they were paying our salaries so we didn't really have a choice but to follow their direction. It caused ours department a lot of inconveniences - lifting near the building's main entrance wasn't allowed, the third and fourth floor's termination was sealed tightly, the tower cranes were relocated, etc. The waterfall in the basement was only the latest in the long list of problems we had to fix.

"Our Civil contractor didn't cover one of the elevator shafts and water from the rain was running down like fucking waterfalls to the basement." Our PD and VP had been together for four years that the former didn't really need to be careful with his choice of words anymore. "I had them cover it up with the water still there. If they don't fix it by lunch I'll make them wish they were assigned in a different project."

General simply nodded.

Beside me I felt Sam squirm in her seat.

"Which reminds me." Our PD's eyes darkened as he turned to the girl slowly shirking in her seat. "Samantha, you were supposed to make sure all the shafts have been covered last week!"

While I handled everything purely electrical, Sam handled all things mechanical and electro-mechanical, so the elevators were her responsibility. I was there when our PD reminded her about sealing off all shafts and mechanical chases the previous week because we were expecting bad weather. But like all of us in this project, she was already heavily loaded as it is that it wouldn't surprise me if she simply asked the elevator contractor to make the rounds instead and never went to make sure herself. She just didn't have the time anymore.

"Yes sir. I made sure they knew to secure them. They must've missed that one..."

"Stop trusting those goddamned contractors too much! Once you tell them what you want them to do, always follow-up and check if they did it right!" Our PD scolded and Sam probably would've sank further in her seat if only the chair allowed it. "Make sure this doesn't happen again! Am I clear?!"

"Y-Yes sir." Was her faint reply. Everybody else in the room with us - the engineer who handled everything that's got to do with plumbing, sanitary, and fire protection, the civil engineer, our document controller / team secretary, and two site architects - had turned dead silent, not wanting to catch our PD's attention next that the slight tremor in her voice could be heard.

The meeting went on without any more blow ups from either General or our PD and we were able to wrap everything up just in time for lunch. Of course, all of us had our work practically doubled afterwards but everyone was more than happy to step out of the makeshift conference room in the still-being-constructed fifth floor.

We made use of one of the service elevators of the three floors of high-end F&B complex already in operation below to get to the ground floor and out the building to look for cheaper sources of food. We all naturally break into groups and while I usually went with Greg, the plumbing engineer, and Patrick, one of the architects, I waved them to go ahead this time when I saw Sam detaching herself from Helen, Carla, and Fiona - our DCO, the other architect, and the civil engineer.

She walked towards the open commercial center of the condominium at the street across from ours with determination. I rushed to catch up with her as soon as my usual companions had gone. She went straight for the cafe on the other side of the building and I followed suit. I placed a hand on her shoulder when we got inside. The shop was a pay-as-you-order kind so we had to wait in line at the cashier if we wanted to get served.

"Hey." Her head whipped to the right and up with surprise. "I saw you ditch your lunch buddies. Something wrong?"

"I have no time for your games Dave. Leave me alone." She shrugged my hand off as she stepped closer to the counter. There was only one more person before it was her turn.

I stepped in line behind her and stuck my hands inside my pockets. "This isn't about that, I'm just concerned. After you helped me during the meeting I feel like I owe you lunch."

She turned to face me, her face calculating. When it was finally her turn to order, she stepped aside. "Alright. I'll have Set A." She started back towards the door. "I'll sit outside."

Smiling, I quickly placed our orders and paid the woman behind the counter. I went outside and found her sitting at the last table on the left with a lit cigarette between her fingers. "I didn't know you smoked." I remarked as I took the seat across for her. I fished my own pack of reds from my pocket and slid a stick out.

She raised an eyebrow at me as I struggled to light my cig against the wind. "Didn't know you did too."

I grinned through the smoke I blew out. "Helps with the stress. I promised myself I'd quit but this job..." I shook my head.

She nodded, taking another drag out of her own stick.

"So... What's gotten you in such a bad mood?" I ventured cautiously, trying to sound nonchalant. I glanced inside the cafe pretending to be more concerned about our orders making its way to our table.

"Are you serious? Weren't you there when I got scolded about not keeping an eye on our contractors' handiwork?"

"You're getting bummed about that?"

"I'm not bummed. Just... frustrated."

I raised both eyebrows at her, willing her to elaborate.

She let out an exasperated sigh and slumped in her chair, stubbing the cig in the ashtray. "I don't know why of all people you have to be the one I rant this to but, tell me you don't see how we're practically driven to slavery in this job."

"Well yeah, since they cut manpower in half last year, work just started piling up like crazy. I don't know how they can expect us to do everything by ourselves."

"Exactly! What do they take us for? We're not superhumans. And our bosses just basically attend the meetings and walk around when they feel they have to. We get to do everything else."

Just then our orders arrive and we spent the next half hour eating and ranting about stuff in the office. We had few good laughs too since I was wired to make fun of practically everything. I could tell she wasn't able to do this much with the way she hogged the conversation with much vigor. It was a release for me too, having someone to talk to about the injustice of having no overtime pay and working through the night nevertheless. Why we stayed working for our company perhaps had more to do with our determination to finish the project we started than anything else.

We drank the rest of our coffee smoking a last round of cigarette, contented with the fair amount of ranting and laughing we had done. We had both turned silent when an idea hit me. I haven't forgotten about my promise to make her choose to be with me of course.

"So. Doesn't this make you want to go out with me? I think I've shown you how good a time you'll have if you just say yes." I grinned.

She rolled her eyes at me. "I should've known that was your intention from the start."

I laughed. "'Course not. I was really worried you know. You were always the stoic one."

"Hey! I'm not stoic." She slapped my arm which made me laugh harder.

"But going back to topic. I'm asking you out again you know, in case you missed that."

She smiled and shook her head. "Still no."

"Fine." I pretended to be completely dejected and slumped in my seat. I made a show of looking like I was thinking and then said what I have actually already thought of earlier. "Why don't we use the points system instead?"

"The what?"

"Basically you give me points each time I do something that earns your favor. Like now. I made you feel better didn't I? Personally, I think I deserve ten points for this."

She laughed. "No way. I hate to think I was deceived into agreeing to that system of yours. This time shouldn't count."

"Alright. Then in the future you'll give me points. It depends on you how much you give me and you can deduct points too if I piss you off. But only if I really do, okay?"

"Then what?" She looked like she was humoring me so I went on.

"Then when I reach a hundred, you go out with me. Exclusively."

She looked thoughtful for a few seconds then killed her cig on the ashtray and sipped what remained of her coffee. She finally nodded once. "Alright. You're on." She held out a hand and I shook it.

"Looking forward to wooing you Sam." I grinned.