The fingers of Emma‘s right hand danced across the number pad like a ping-pong ball in a dryer, while the fingers on her left found and identified the data she needed to input. The numbers themselves meant nothing more to her than a puzzle, and unraveling puzzles came more naturally than sleep. Her brain, not being needed, drifted away. Normally, she used this time to dream up plots and characters for future use in her under-construction, sequential-art masterpiece, but not this time.
Today, a twenty-four-year-old Emma Dayton, complete with an ill-advised pixie haircut and the denim jacket she swore she’d wear forever, sits beside her. She’d graduated from college four months earlier and spent the summer on a wild bender, waiting tables and saving up some cash before leaving Iowa and settling into an apartment in Queens with a handful of friends, a few boxes of necessities, and a future full of ambition. As she watches thirty-two-year-old Emma work, she has some questions. “What happened to your art?”
It’s in my apartment.
“I mean,” she insists, “why aren’t you drawing right now?”
Bills. Rent. Food.
“Why isn’t the art taking care of that?” she asks.
Because it’s just not working. I tried.
That’s easy for you to say.
“What, you think it’s easy for me to watch you sell out?”
Grow up, little girl.
To be fair, twenty-two-year-old Emma Dayton was an idiot.
She hit the save button and let her attention wander to the calendar hanging on the wall–not-quite-visible from the doorway, but very visible from here. Returning her gaze with half-closed eyes was a firefighter, a hose draped over his glistening, bare shoulders like a trained anaconda.
Nope. No subtext there.
“I guess you noticed that,” said Amanda, who had materialized in a chair on the other side of the desk, as relaxed as if she had been here for hours.
A startled Emma gasped, “Excuse me?”
Sheepishly, Emma shrugged.
Amanda laughed through her nose. “The girls in receivable gave it to me as a Christmas present–they said Hanukkah, but Hanukkah’s not the same as Christmas, or even at the same time most years, and it would have been just as nice if they just made it a Christmas present, but the thought was really sweet so I didn’t say anything. They thought it would be funny–probably because I’m single, or because it’s not really classy or dignified, and besides, it’s firemen.” She laughed again. “I have a thing about firemen, but what girl doesn’t? So, yeah, long story short, it’s a gag gift.”
“You still hung it up.” Crap. Emma hadn’t meant to say that aloud.
Amanda blushed. “Abs.”
“Abs,” Emma agreed.
“Besides,” she added with a lowered voice, “you should see how the boys–the other VPs, I mean–react. It makes them a little uncomfortable and kind of reminds them who is in charge of the office–except for the president, of course.” She took a deep breath. “It’s the twenty-first century, and we’ve had the right to vote, for, like, a hundred years, but those expensive business schools keep sending out these frat boys who don’t have to work half as hard as I do to get twice as far, and it took a really long time to get them to even accept that I’m their fucking boss–way too long. So if half-naked–or mostly naked, like Mr. July, or all naked behind a fire hydrant, like Mr. February–makes them squirm, then good.”
“Huh,” Emma replied.
“Sorry. I don’t know why I just told you all that.” She shook her head. “This doesn’t leave the office. You get it, though, right?”
“Except Daryl,” she said. “He doesn’t seem threatened. By the calendar or by me. He’s smarter than he looks, you know.”
“Daryl’s a VP?” Emma asked. It would be nice to be able to answer Mike’s daily question and maybe shut him the hell up.
“I don’t… I don’t know.” Amanda frowned and stared off into space. “Oh, I have an update about your desk. Was it falling apart?”
“It wasn’t in great shape,” Emma admitted. “I mean, one of the drawers had a big hole in the bottom. And one of the legs just kind of fell off last week, and the screw they used to put it back together rips a hole in my hose if I’m not careful. So there’s that.”
“HR ordered a new one the other day,” Amanda told her. “which is really forward-thinking of them, I’ll admit, especially since they hate replacing anything or spending money. And because it wouldn’t fit in that office with everything else in there, they called some guys to take out the old one, but it never occurred to anyone to replace it with the new one.” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t get me started. But it doesn’t matter, because, after I explained the urgency of your situation, and they explained to me that you were just a temp, and I explained the urgency of your situation again, they called the delivery company, and they’ll be moving it in right away.” She looked at her empty wrist and then at the clock on the wall. “And that means five minutes ago. Literally five minutes ago.”
Emma glared at the pile of printouts that didn’t seem to be getting any smaller. “Can I just stay here and finish? I don’t want to lose my momentum.”
After a minute of thought and scrutiny, Amanda concluded, “No.”
“Okay, then, but these are running really late for the meeting.”
“I cancelled the meeting,” Amanda told her.
“You can do that?”
“Apparently I can.” She grinned. “Who knew?”
“Why would you do that?”
“You’re such a good sport,” she said, “and there’s no need for you to kill yourself for no good reason.”
“I think a functioning company’s a good reason.”
“You’re serious,” she stated.
“It’s my job,” Emma admitted reluctantly.
Amanda shook her head. “Your job is to perform a function vital to our corporation, but at a lower overhead because we don’t have to pay benefits, and we can terminate you suddenly without severance pay or even a really good reason.”
“Wow. When you put it like that…”
Amanda smiled sadly.
After a moment, Emma asked, “What now?”
“You can do whatever other daily tasks you have at your new desk at your own leisure, and I’ll be here tomorrow, which will hopefully go more smoother for both of us.”
Amanda’s shoulders slumped. “Fuck this job,” she groaned.