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I'm Not Your Mentor - 9. Chapter 9: Work Problems

9. Don’t Assume Anything

Always double-check, and never assume. If you explain something to someone, have them retell it in their own words. Then you’ll know if they really understood what you were teaching.

— Employee Handbook: Mentoring

 

For the next couple of weeks, things settled down, and life had almost become a comfortable routine.

Or at least comfortable—it was barely routine.

Weekdays were filled with work—Jonah seemed as inclined to work long hours as I was—but we also watched movies on TV and played a lot of video games. We weren’t playing the same games, but we’d usually play in the same room.

On the weekends we went to the movies, rode the bikes, and went to the Museum of Contemporary Art.

We were getting comfortable with one another.

And then, everything changed again.

I’d noticed that Jonah had been distracted for a couple of days. Something was worrying him, but he wouldn’t say what. I’d be talking to him, and I’d realize that he was staring off into space.

“Hey!” I said to him one evening, trying to get his attention. I’d been putting together dinner while he was sitting at the kitchen island, staring out the window.

“Spaceman!” I said a little louder.

“Huh? What?” he said, shaking himself.

“Where were you?” I asked him

Jonah shrugged. “Nowhere,” he said, shrugging again.

That evening we watched some TV, but Jonah didn’t seem interested in anything. He spent half the time on his phone texting or looking at Instagram or something. I started to wonder if I had done something wrong, or if he was getting sick or bored of the relationship.

That night, after washing up, I went into the bedroom, and Jonah was already in bed, lying on his side, facing away from me.

“You all set?” I asked him as I climbed into bed, and he nodded. I turned out the light and moved over to cuddle up to him, putting my hand first on his chest, and then slowly sliding my hand down towards his stomach.

I’d just about reached his belly button when he put his hand up and grabbed mine. I lay there waiting for him to say something, but he didn’t say or do anything.

I tried moving my hand again, but he gripped it tighter.

“You tired?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said, the answer sounding more on edge than sleepy.

It was the first time Jonah had resisted sex or intimacy, and it panicked me. He didn’t seem ill, and he hadn’t appeared tired. If anything, he seemed tense and wound up.

“Are you okay?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he mumbled, and then Jonah turned his head to face me.

I leaned down, kissed his lips, and was about to press my tongue into his mouth when he pulled away.

“I’m just really tired,” he said. There was a long pause, and then he added, “Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say.

I lay awake for about an hour or so, running it all through my head, trying to make sense of the past few days.

 

The next morning I awoke to find the bed beside me empty. Jonah had gotten up well before me, showered and dressed, and he was literally heading out the door as I came down to have breakfast.

“Hey!” I called out to his back.

Jonah stopped at the door and just seemed to freeze for a few seconds before turning slowly to face me. He gave me an uncertain smile as I tentatively walked up to him.

“Morning,” I said, waiting for him to say something, but he just nodded and stood there. I leaned in slowly…and ended up kissing him chastely on the side of the mouth.

Jonah smiled a more genuine smile, but then he looked uncomfortable. “I’ve got to go,” he said.

“I’ll see you tonight?” I asked, holding my breath for the answer.

He nodded casually.

“Okay,” I said, and he turned and walked out, and I watched him go, trying to figure out what might be going on in his head.

 

After Jonah left, I went and poured myself a bowl of cereal and sat at the kitchen island, wondering what was going to happen next. I wondered if he was seeing someone else, or if he’d just realized that it made no sense to be dating someone so much older?

Was he bored? Had he grown tired of me? John had said some cruel things when we’d had our final fight—after he’d told me he’d been sleeping with the guy that worked part-time in the sandwich shop. He’d said that I was cold and self-centered.

At the time, I thought he was just trying to hurt me or to make me the bad guy so that he wouldn’t feel guilty. But maybe John’s picture of me was more accurate than my own?

Well, I thought, I had enjoyed a couple of glorious and exciting months, and I hadn’t even dreamed of getting that. Shouldn’t I just revel in the memory of what was, rather than grieve for losing it?

This sounds like great advice in theory, but it can be impossible to accomplish in reality.

 

That day turned into a succession of long, boring meetings, and I made a note to myself; Fewer Meetings. I wrote it in large letters on the notepad, though I knew it was unlikely to happen. Being a senior VP pretty much means that all you do is have meetings. You never actually do any work.

Well, hardly any.

I was a late getting home—the last meeting ran over—and on the way home, I dreaded what I’d find there. Would Jonah have already moved out? Would he be waiting to give me the bad news? The ‘hey, we need to talk’ speech.

Part of me didn’t want to go home and find out.

But Jonah was there when I got home, swimming in the pool, and for a couple of minutes, I stood there watching him swim. Trying to burn the memory into my brain.

It was a hot afternoon, and part of me thought about changing and going in the pool with him. But he probably wouldn’t want me.

I was just about to turn and go back inside when he turned and spotted me.

“Hi,” Jonah called out, and he swam over to hang on the edge of the pool, close to where I was standing.

“Hey,” I said.

Was it my imagination, or was he less ebullient? Less playful?

“You been home long?” he asked.

“No. I just got in,” I said.

“Okay,” he nodded.

“Ahh…any thoughts about dinner?” I asked him.

Jonah shrugged, and now he looked sad.

“You want to get pizza?” I asked.

I was tired and didn’t feel like cooking before getting into an awkward conversation. Something easy like takeout seemed the better choice, and then maybe over dinner, we can figure out the breakup.

Or when he wanted to move out.

“Sure,” Jonah nodded. “I’m going to swim for a bit more.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “I’ll order it,” and I went in and ordered his favorite pizza.

When the pizza arrived, Jonah came hesitantly into the kitchen as I put out a couple of plates.

After getting some slices, we sat down across from each other. I realized that the usual hugging, kissing, and touching of the earlier relationship had been avoided. We sat there, eating pizza, and struggling to make small talk. I thought about getting a beer, but decided that if I started, I might not stop. The last thing I wanted to do was get drunk and make things worse.

“How was work?” I asked, thinking that small talk would be best while we ate.

“Okay,” he said.

“Anything interesting happen?” I asked.

Jonah looked nervous. I wondered whether it was someone at work that he’d hooked up with.

“No,” he said, his voice sounding strained. There was a long silence. “What about you?” he asked.

“Oh, you know. The usual meetings,” I said.

Jonah nodded. Another long silence. We were struggling just to talk to each other. Fuck, I thought to myself, this is hell.

“Anything else happening?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No,” he said.

This was getting us nowhere. I guessed that one of us had to be the adult and move things along. Put a fork in it, as they say.

“Listen,” I said, taking a breath and preparing for the devastation to follow. “If you want to move out, it’s okay.” I almost choked on the words, but I managed to get them out.

Jonah looked up in surprise, his mouth hanging open. I could see some half-chewed pizza in his mouth, but he still looked adorable.

“I mean,” I continued, “it’s been fun, but if it’s time…”

“You’re kicking me out?” Jonah asked, his voice clearly surprised, almost hurt.

“No,” I denied, confused by his response. “I’m just saying, if you want to go…” I began, but Jonah was looking puzzled. I began to wonder what I had got wrong. “…if you’ve met someone else, I understand,” I continued.

Jonah sat there for a second, and then he literally laughed. I think that hurt most of all.

“Okay…” I began, trying to reclaim some dignity.

“I haven’t met someone else,” he interrupted.

Now I was more confused. Was Jonah just bored with me?

“Okay, well, what…?,” and I didn’t know what to ask.

Jonah sat there for a moment, the puzzled expression still on his face.

“What are you talking about?” he blurted out.

“Ah…I’m talking about you being so distant,” I said. Jonah looked like I was talking in riddles. “Not wanting to have sex…” I added uncertainly.

“I was tired!”

“You’re distant…”

“I’ve been busy at work!” he snapped back, looking hurt. Was I the bad guy here?

“Really?” I said, annoyed and trying not to get angry. “that’s what’s going on?”

Jonah looked guilty, and then he looked down.

I took a deep breath and tried to think of how best to say what I was thinking.

“Jonah,” I said, trying to sound as gentle and consolatory as I could. “Look…I understand if you’re having second thoughts. If you want to take a break, …slow things down…”

He looked up, and now he really looked upset.

“No…that’s not…” he began and then stopped.

I waited, but he just sat there, looking conflicted.

“Then what’s going on?” I asked softly.

“I can’t tell you!” he exclaimed.

Shocked, I shot back, “Why not?”

We sat there for a moment.

“I can’t tell you,” he repeated quietly, almost whispered.

“Why not?” I repeated.

There was another long silence, and I resisted the urge to fill it.

“It’s not about us,” Jonah finally said. “It’s not…I still love you.”

“What can’t you tell me?” I asked, sweeping over this unexpected proclamation of love.

He sat there in silence.

“Jonah?”

“It’s work-related.”

“Work-related?”

He nodded.

I sat there for a second, digesting this information. Wait, Jonah said he still loved me? He loved me? And it was something about work? Maybe this wasn’t as bad as I thought? Perhaps this was salvageable? I tried to think of what it might be at work that upset him, and immediately suspected the worst.

“Has someone found out we’re sleeping together?” I asked him.

Jonah shook his head.

“Oh…Is someone hitting on you, threatening you?” I asked. In my head, I was checking off all the possibilities.

Jonah shook his head again, and we sat there in silence, and I couldn’t think of what else it could be.

“I can’t do the job,” he suddenly blurted out. “I’m going to quit.”

For some reason, this shocked me more than the idea that Jonah didn’t want to be with me anymore. He’d seemed so happy the last few weeks, and full of confidence about his abilities. How had it gone so wrong?

“You can’t do the job?” I said slowly.

Jonah looked up and nodded, looking uncomfortable.

“You?” I said carefully.

“What?” he asked, now confused.

“You’re the smartest guy in the department!” I said, teasing him with the words he’d used to compare himself to his co-workers just a week or so before.

Jonah pursed his lips, obviously getting the reference. “I was wrong,” he finally said.

I got up and walked around, Jonah watching me closely as I came towards him, but he didn’t object or move away as I put my arms around him. I hugged Jonah tightly to me, his back against my chest.

“Jonah, you have to tell me what’s going on,” I said softly into his ear.

“I can’t,” he whispered.

“Yes, you can,” I said, kissing the side of his face. “Tell me, please. I’ll do everything I can to fix it.”

We stayed that way for a minute or two.

“I found something,” he finally said quietly.

“What?” I asked, trying not to sound like I was interrogating him.

“An unprotected database on the public server.”

“Okay,” I said, unsure what it meant, but knowing enough that it wasn’t good.

“I told my supervisor,” Jonah continued, “and he told me not to tell anyone…and then he deleted all the files.”

“Oh,” I said. That wasn’t good at all. “Do you know what was in the files?” I asked.

Jonah shook his head. “Not exactly. I think it might have been the results from a drug study.”

“Patient data?” I asked.

“Ah…Maybe.”

“Fuck,” I mumbled. Patient data was, after industrial secrets, the worst thing to lose. The government had rules and regulations about protecting patient data. If we screwed that up, we could lose government contracts. “Do they know if anyone got into the database?” I asked.

Jonah shook his head again. “I don’t know. He told me no one did, but…I’m not sure they could tell, and I don’t think they are trying to find out.”

“Okay,” and then I kissed him softly on the cheek and hugged him closer. “It’s gonna be okay,” I said softly, and he nodded, and I kissed him again.

“You can’t tell anyone,” Jonah said hurriedly.

“What?”

“Don’t tell anyone I told you. Please,” he said, turning and staring at me with wide eyes.

I still had my arms around him, and I pulled him back towards me. He reluctantly moved towards me, and I squeezed him gently.

“I can’t promise that it won’t come out that you told me, but I’ll do my best.”

“They’ll fire me,” he said.

“No,” I said. “They won’t do that. Not for reporting this. Don’t worry,” I said.

“They’ll hate me if they find out. It’ll be shit,” Jonah protested.

“Let’s…one step at a time. I have to look into this, okay? You did the right thing telling me,” I assured him.

Jonah leaned back, turned his head, and his mouth met mine, and for the first time in a couple of days, he opened his mouth and started kissing me. And then he just leaned against me as I hugged him, and I was so fucking grateful he was still mine.

We didn’t talk anymore about what had happened. Neither of us was hungry, and we ended up going to bed early and spending the rest of the evening just hugging and holding each other.

And I wasn’t even disappointed I didn’t get to have sex with him.

At least I still had him.

 

Jonah was brighter the net morning, but still anxious. I kept assuring him that he wasn’t going to get into trouble, but he didn’t seem to believe me.

He was unhappy when I explained that I had to do something about what he had told me. My insistence that, as an officer of the company, I’d be exposing the company to even greater peril if I didn’t act, seemed to hold little sway with him. But by the time Jonah left, he appeared at least resigned to me doing something. I just hoped that it wouldn’t cause new problems at work, and that Jonah wouldn’t be upset with me.

 

 

It was 10:15 a.m., and we were a quarter of the way into the departmental manager's meeting. The IS Security manager had just finished her update.

“Ah, thanks, Erin,” I said, and I could see the next person about to start talking. “Ah, just a question…”

“Yes?” she asked. Erin was one of the most efficient and competent people on the team, so I didn’t like putting her on the spot, but I wasn’t sure how else to handle this.

“Where do we stand on software updates for our web servers? There’s been a lot of press about companies being hacked that haven’t been updating software…”

Erin frowned for a moment and then replied briskly. “We’re running the latest patches on all the web servers.”

“Same for our vendors and partners?” I asked.

“Uh, it’s policy that they do so, yes,” she said, but now she was starting to look concerned.

“Have we checked?” I asked, hoping I didn’t sound either concerned or accusatory. I was just trying to sound curious.

There was a pause, and I could see her thinking.

“We do,” she said, finally, and then paused again. “Ah…I’m not sure when we last did.”

“Okay,” I nodded in a conciliatory way. “Can you make it an item to check, and also whether we need a policy to check with them? And if we already do, let me know what it is?”

“I’ll put that together,” Erin nodded, writing something in her notebook.

“Thanks. Now you’re talking server software. What about databases?”

“Databases?” she repeated.

“Don’t some of them have their own external interfaces?”

“I think that would be handled by the database team,” said Erin, looking to someone sitting across from her.

I looked over at Cole, who—and it might have been my imagination—looked a little uncomfortable.

“Where do we stand with that?” I asked him.

“Uh…I don’t…I’ll have to look into that,” he said stuttering and definitely looking a little red.

“Okay,” I said, trying my best to continue sounding casual. “Can you do the same and get us an update by the end of the day?” I asked. “A rundown of all databases that are external facing. Any potential problem areas?”

There was a ripple of something through the room, but I did my best to ignore it.

“Yea…Yes,” Cole stammered.

“Great. Moving on…Gerald?” and we continued on with the next agenda item.

 

After the meeting, Peter came up to me.

“What’s going on?” he asked me quietly.

“Going on?” I asked, trying to appear as calm and disinterested as possible.

“Is there something going on? Why were you asking about the databases?”

“I don’t know if anything is going on,” I said truthfully. “I just want to make sure everything’s being done correctly.”

I regretted not being completely transparent with Pete, but I didn’t want to make an issue of it and find out it was really nothing. Jonah might have been wrong, and I couldn’t charge off assuming things without checking them myself.

“Okay,” Peter said, but I could tell he was suspicious. I realized I might have to tell him about Jonah sooner rather than later.

That was what probably irritated me the most about the whole business. If someone else had come forward with the problem, I would have done what needed to be done to solve the problem and move on. It would have been unlikely to affect my position or reputation.

The revelation of my relationship with Jonah might not be so easy to move past.

 

 

At about 1:15 p.m., I got a text from Jonah.

‘Shit hit the fan’ was all it said.

I texted him back. ‘Are you ok?’

‘So far,’ he replied.

‘Let me know if you’re in trouble,’ I texted back, but I didn’t hear anything more from him.

 

 

Just after three o’clock, Peter arrived at my door with Cole, and another guy, Edmund, who I knew was Jonah’s supervisor.

“We need to talk,” said Peter, his tone serious.

I waved them all in. They came into my office almost reluctantly. As soon as they sat, Cole told the whole story; about the unsecured database, that they didn’t know how long it had been unsecured, and that they didn’t know if anyone had accessed it. It sounded pretty much identical to what Jonah had told me.

“When did you find out?” I asked casually.

Edmund looked unsettled.

“A couple of days ago,” he finally said.

“How’d you find out?”

Cole took a deep breath. He clearly was unhappy about having to explain what had gone wrong. “One of the interns was running a diagnostic tool…” he began slowly. “He ran it on all the databases and realized this some were configured incorrectly.”

“An intern?” I asked, confused. Was this a different problem to the one Jonah had found, or had someone else found the same problem before Jonah? If that was the case, it meant Jonah wouldn’t have to be involved in any investigation, and I felt hopeful.

“I don’t think he’s an intern,” said Peter, and the two of them looked at Edmund.

Edmund shifted uncomfortably. “He just joined the database group,” he corrected.

There went all my hopes; it was Jonah.

“And what did you do?” I asked, trying to move the conversation away from Jonah.

“They were no longer being used, so we deleted the files,” Edmund said.

I nodded. “Do you know what was in the databases?”

Edmund looked unsure of himself, and Cole jumped in.

“Patient data from several older clinical studies. Most of the data was encrypted and anonymized,” said Cole.

“Most of it?” I repeated.

“We think so,” said Cole, less certainly.

“You don’t know?” I asked.

“Ahh…” Cole turned to Edmund, who looked like he didn’t know either.

“We need to know,” I pointed out. “How many records are we talking about?”

“A few thousand…maybe a hundred thousand,” said Edmund.

“Do we know if anyone accessed it?”

“No,” said Cole firmly. I waited, expecting him to explain, but he didn’t.

“No, they didn’t, or no, we don’t know?” I asked.

There was another awkward silence. “Ahhh...We don’t know,” said Edmund.

I sat there for a moment, just letting the enormity of the screw-up sink in.

“We need to find out what was in there and if anyone accessed it,” said Peter, expressing my thoughts before I could.

“Yes,” I agreed. “And we need to have a meeting with compliance and legal and probably corporate communications to figure out what we do next… alright, I’ll put that together, you need to work out what was visible and if anyone got into it. Or if you’re unable to do that, you find out who we need to get in to figure it out. Any questions?”

Ending with the statement ‘any questions’ was a shit move to do. It basically implied ‘don’t ask any more questions, we’re done.’ But I was annoyed, and I didn’t want to say what I was really thinking.

No one said a word.

“Okay then,” I said.

They all got up slowly.

“Hey, Peter,” I said, “do you have a minute?”

“Ah sure,” he said, closing the door behind the other guys.

I took a breath. “I think I have to tell you something.”

“Okay,” he said slowly.

“The software engineer that found the unsecure databases…” I began.

“Jonah …someone?”

“Yeah. Harris. Jonah Harris.”

“Okay,” he nodded, and it was clear he had no idea what was coming. There was no sign he suspected anything. For a moment I thought about not saying anything, but it was too late for that.

“Yeah. He and I…we are…” I wasn’t sure how to put it. Probably best to just get to the point. “We are in a relationship.”

“Oh,” he said, and I saw his eyes noticeably widen.

“Uh…that’s how I found out about it…”

“You’re in a relationship?” repeated Peter, clearly shocked.

“Uh…yeah,” I agreed. Didn’t I just say that? “It started before he joined the company,” I hastily added. “I didn’t know he was going to be working here. It’s just…not what I planned,” I said, feeling myself redden a little, and here was I trying to appear cool and collected.

Pete stood there for a moment, and then he nodded slowly.

“Are these things ever?” he asked, and he grinned just a bit.

“I…ah…told Karen as soon as I realized he was working here, and it turned out we were still…interested in each other.”

It’s interesting the euphemisms you come up with for ‘fuck partner.’

“Okay,” he said. I got the impression that Pete really didn’t want to talk about the details either, and I was grateful. I didn’t want to talk about them at all.

“I’m not planning to spread this around,” I continued. “It’s difficult enough as it is, but I thought it important that you know since…well, I wanted someone else in the division to know, and he isn’t actually in your reporting chain.”

“Okay.”

“We’re…Karen, is talking about transferring him to another division. That’s what Karen wants to do, but we haven’t found anything that would be appropriate, and she doesn’t think it would be good to create something, even though she’d dearly like to move him.” I was babbling. I think my nervousness was making me babble.

“What about another company?” Peter suggested. “Maybe he needs to go somewhere else?”

I’d been thinking about that, but it seemed like a real imposition. Could I ask Jonah to do that?

“He doesn’t have much work experience, it’s really his first job out of school,” I said, feeling awkward.

Peter looked even more surprised, and I could see his mind working.

“How old is he?” Peter asked before he could stop himself.

“He’s twenty-four,” I said reluctantly.

I’ll give Pete one thing, there was no visible reaction on his face this time. Remind me not to play poker with him.

“And he only just graduated?” Peter asked.

“He put himself through college, and he had to take a year off at one point.”

Peter stood there, digesting.

“I wish it hadn’t happened this way,” I said.

“How serious is it?” he asked.

“The data breach?”

“No,” said Peter. “The relationship?”

“Oh,” I said. I had to think about that. How best to answer. “Very,” I finally said.

Peter looked at me thoughtfully and then nodded.

“What are you going to do if it comes out?” he asked.

“No idea,” I said honestly. “The fact he’s younger, and so much junior, and he’s in my division. It’s…I was going to say awkward, but that’s not even the half of it.”

“Do his manager, or anyone in the chain know?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“How would he do if we had to let him go?”

“Well, he has no family, debt from school…now obviously I can help him out, but he doesn’t like me just giving him money. And he’s only been working for a couple of months. It’s going to be very hard for him to find another job and explain…”

“We’d give him a good reference,” Peter cut in. “It wouldn’t look like he was being fired. We could keep him on until he finds a new job. We wouldn’t have to boot him out the door right now. Not at the moment. Not while people don’t know…” He paused. “It might change if people know.”

“Maybe, yeah,” I agreed.

“Uh, it’s not my place, but I’d encourage him to start looking elsewhere if it was me. It would solve a lot of problems for everybody.”

“Yeah,” I nodded.

 

To be continued

Thanks for reading. You can check out my book on Amazon: They're Watching You. Read my blog or follow me on Twitter.

Copyright © 2019 GabrielCaldwell; All Rights Reserved.
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Very good. I like the mixing in of real world issues that can influence a relationship. Well done.

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Interesting that they all decide "the intern" goes. All hed need to do is suggest Gabriel stays and he leaves. The powers that be would quickly find a solution....

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3 hours ago, Canuk said:

Interesting that they all decide "the intern" goes. All hed need to do is suggest Gabriel stays and he leaves. The powers that be would quickly find a solution....

Let's hope it doesn't come to that....   ;)

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So Jonah proved he’s good at his job by finding an overlooked discrepancy, his direct supervisor does the wrong thing in covering it up and Jonah has to look for new employment?!?!
 

Either relationships between co workers are allowed or it isn’t, that gray area is a cop out.  Reporting chain and confidentiality be damned, Jonah did the right thing all around....in trying to follow protocol, he didn’t even want to tell Brian and he has to pay?  That’s pretty fucked up.

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3 hours ago, FanLit said:

So Jonah proved he’s good at his job by finding an overlooked discrepancy, his direct supervisor does the wrong thing in covering it up and Jonah has to look for new employment?!?!
 

Either relationships between co workers are allowed or it isn’t, that gray area is a cop out.  Reporting chain and confidentiality be damned, Jonah did the right thing all around....in trying to follow protocol, he didn’t even want to tell Brian and he has to pay?  That’s pretty fucked up.

The piramid's  bottom is forced to quit ! Effin weird. 

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On 8/22/2020 at 8:14 AM, Canuk said:

All hed need to do is suggest Gabriel stays and he leaves.

Don’t you mean Jonah? Gabriel is the author. I get it, though, and I agree.

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Brian needs to go to bat for Jonah. Management is looking for a convenient solution and the best solution is to simply address the problem, and the problem is Brian, not Jonah. Brian is the responsible person here. If he really cares about Jonah, then don’t hang him out to dry as suggested.

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4 hours ago, Arran said:

Don’t you mean Jonah? Gabriel is the author. I get it, though, and I agree.

All right, if you insist...the authors stays !

Apologies!

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