It looks like it's going to be one hell of a week again, wailed Ram as he was looking at the applications on his desk. How did all these start piling up? I thought I had this cleared last week. He can imagine Dragon Lady breathing down his neck if she sees the pile. Ugh.
A text message came through. This one came from Charlie, his frenemy. Ah Charlie, what to do? He is actually a good friend to him. But he can be so high maintenance. And not in the financial way. On the contrary, when he is in the mood, Charlie is just generous! Treating him here and there. But one misstep, just one text, not immediately replied to, can set him off. And the tirades of emotional blackmail start pouring in his mobile phone.
Anyway, it is all peaceful with Charlie again. So he read the message: "Hey girl. A friend of mine submitted his application two weeks ago. Could you check status please? Thanks."
Fearful of another barrage of hate messages, he quickly looked at the pile and saw an application with Charlie's cover note. "Hello Ram. I would appreciate if you could process this." He looked at supplier accreditation form from Omar Rivera. He seems to be supplying gift items. Another one. Ho-hum.
"Hello Charlie. Saw it. Will see if it can be prioritized. Thanks." was his quick reply. And he quickly put it back in the middle of the pile. He wasn't about to just switch papers for him.
Ram is the right-hand, assistant merchandise manager, to the powerful merchandising VP, Sandra. Yes, Sandra the dragon lady. She is supposedly a family friend of the owners of the retail chain. So they hold her in confidence.
She is a darn good merchandise person, too. She's got the eye for it. And the haughty attitude to match. But after working with her for 3 years, Ram has gained her trust. She knew his abilities. He was confident that he had learned the tricks of the trade. So he is the powerful 'mini-me', the gatekeeper. And rightfully, suppliers and would-be ones, treat him with as much reverence as his boss. And he enjoys it. Never abuses it.
A few days later, Charlie called him up.
"Hello Ram! Are you free for dinner? Let's catch up."
"Hello Charlie. Uhmm. When were you planning?"
"This Friday. I'll be in your side of town. My treat!"
"Uh ok. 8-ish, fine with you? I'll be coming from the office."
"Sure dear! See you!"
Well, it has been a while since he got together with Charlie. So this treat was no surprise to him. And he chose the nice restaurant, one he always wanted to try. It should be good dinner.
When he walked towards the reserved table, he was surprised to see another person with Charlie. He usually comes alone.
Charlie stood up to give his friend a hug.
"Hello!! Nice to see you again. Ram, I'd like you to meet Omar."
"Hi! Nice to meet you, Sir."
"Sir? Call me Ram. That's what everybody calls me."
He was trying to recall where he heard the name. And soon enough, it dawned on him, just as they were starting on the appetizers. This is one of the supplier-applicants! How sneaky of Charlie to do this!
He tried to play cool, even as Omar eventually talked about his work and his business, and asked about the status of his application. Ram was looking him over. He didn't look half as bad. He actually looks quite sexy underneath that long-sleeve shirt. But that didn't matter. He was still quite annoyed that this dinner was a set-up.
"Uhm, Omar, just a bit more patience, okay? There are just a million other applications right now. But I'm sure it will get to Sandra soon."
"Thanks. I really appreciate that."
And the evening remained pleasant until the end.
Soon enough, he called Omar for the appointment.
"Hello Omar. This is Ram."
"Ah yes, sir. Hello! How are you?"
"I'm good. Thanks for asking. About your application, Ms. Dy is ready to see you. Can you come over by tomorrow, 10am?"
"Yes, definitely. I'll be there."
"And please bring the sample merchandise."
"Of course! I'll see you then. Bye. Thanks."
Omar was more than punctual. He was an hour early for his 10am appointment. Ram felt sorry that he was all alone in the waiting area. And since his workload was quite light that day, he told Omar he could wait in his office.
"So how did you meet Charlie?"
"Met him at the gym. He approached me one time. And we've been hanging out from time to time. He's been a lot of help with the business. Always gives me free advice." This got Ram's right eyebrow raised. He just realized that Charlie was into this guy. So stupid of him not to realize earlier!
"Oh. That's good. Charlie likes hanging out."
"Yeah. Also quite persistent. hahaha'"
His eyes rolled (only to himself) at this. So typically Charlie.
"Anyway, can I show you some of the merchandise now?"
Omar got up and walked over to his bag. Ram noticed the tight jeans he was wearing. And how it just made his butt look so big and.... bubbly. But the surprise came when he faced him. There in front of him was a basket, a big basket, packed. He couldn't help but stare.
"Ahem. Here is a sample of the bags we import." There was a slight smile in his tone. Ram looked up and figured out that Omar saw him staring at his crotch. He turned red, embarrassed.
And by reflex, he became ice cold. He didn't dare show this side of him to a supplier, to an applicant at that!
"Ok. Well, Sandra will be the judge of how good it is." he said icily. And he turned to his computer to work. "I need to get something done."
"Ah sure." Omar felt the change and retreated.
The meeting with Sandra went well actually. Omar was in his element, presenting the merchandise. And to his credit, the stocks were actually well-made and priced competitively. Ram let Sandra do all the talking. He was still quite upset with himself for having been caught.
And as potential suppliers go, this was not going to be the last meeting. He would be asked to submit other samples. And would even have to design and produce some goods exclusive to their chain. It was going to be a long process of accreditation.
The first meetings after that were quite tough for Omar. And Ram made sure of it. He was not accommodating at all. And for his part, Omar respected the wall Ram erected between them. But that didn't stop him from trying his best to be on his good side.
By the third meeting, the ice had thawed. Ram felt the sincerity to build a friendship, or at least a supplier-client relationship. And in between the actual meetings, they would talk about other things. And slowly, he started to look at Omar in a different light.
He was certainly a self-made young man. Well, not as really "made" yet. But he was on his way. He was a single parent. His wife left him a few years back. And he was so proud of his 4 year old son. A lot of the time, he would simply be sharing the next naughty thing little Tommy did or learned.
The one thing they never talked about was about being gay, He sensed it, definitely. Moreso after he mentioned being a single parent. But he never volunteered any information. And neither did Ram.
So Ram found himself becoming quite comfortable with Omar. Yet he knew that Omar remained a supplier. And that meant distance. But the more that he got to know him, the harder it became to put that wall between them.
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