Constellations appeared in the pockmarked material. A faint hum from the central air system vibrated along the t-bars.
For seven minutes, she stared at the drop ceiling, waiting quietly for six-foot-four Samuel to step away from the copy machine. He was clearly done, yet there he remained, reading and shuffling papers, taking occasional deep breaths.
Samuel turned around and looked down at her.
“Oh, hi Fiona.”
She fought to maintain eye contact for more than a second before she had to turn away.
He returned to his reading.
Fiona slinked away as quietly as possible. She headed to the stairs, praying that no one was using the machine on the fourth floor.
She was halfway into the stairwell when she turned and saw Mr. Makimoto’s face peeking out from his office.
“Can you come in for a sec?”
She unwillingly turned back toward his office. Perspiration formed in her armpits. Mr. Makimoto had his back turned to her as she came in, looking through the cabinet behind his desk.
“Please, have a seat,” he said.
She did so and Mr. Makimoto followed. Fiona instinctively leaned back in the chair, trying not to stare at the thin strands of black hair combed across his balding head.
“Fiona, you know we value you as an employee, right?”
Fiona’s stomach churned.
Oh God. This is it. I’m done for. How will I feed Princess Purrl? What will I tell mom?
“I just want you to know that we love having you work for Broward and Menkel. You’re always on time. Always so willing to listen.”
He coughed lightly.
“But we can all seek to improve, no matter where we’re at in our careers, right?”
Oh here it comes.
She thought she nodded.
Mr. Makimoto took a deep breath.
“I’m just going to come out and say it.”
She tightened her ab muscles, bracing for impact.
“You lack assertiveness and you’re not living up to your capabilities.”
Fiona wanted to run out of the room before he could finish.
“And the only way I can see to remedy that-”
A nearly imperceptible fart slipped out of Fiona’s clenched buttocks.
“-is to promote you to Office Manager.”
Mr. Makimoto shot up, nearly falling over the desk, and extended his hand. “Congratulations!”
His smile looked like it had been painted on.
Fiona felt as if she were observing the scene outside of her body. It took monumental effort to lightly grasp his hand.
She wanted to say something, but her throat was tighter than a pickle jar lid. Suddenly, she found herself standing in the hallway again, hearing Mr. Makimoto drone on about new challenges and more responsibility, and hold on because she had to sign some paperwork.
Now at her desk, as if in a trance, Fiona opened up her email program.
She began typing.
Dear Mr. Makimoto,
I am writing to notify you of my formal resignation…