Hildy Braun had a bible on her head. It was a gift from her second foster mother.
“Proper young ladies have proper posture,” Miss Ansley had said, crowning Hildy with the heavy family bible.
Hildy walked up and down the stairs. Through the kitchen and into the sitting room. She ate dinner with the bible on her head. She fetched the mail. At night she balanced it while brushing her teeth. She knew better than to let it fall.
Over thirty years had passed since then, and Miss Ansley was nothing more than a faded photograph of a memory, but Hildy still felt the bible rocking precariously on her skull, flattening her hair and giving her a headache.
“Hey, Hildy, relax a little,” her coworkers joked.
“No need to be so uptight,” they said.
In return Hildy smiled thinly and lamented the death of good posture. She hadn’t gotten much from Miss Ansley, or any of her other foster mothers, but at least she’d been taught the virtue of a straight spine, squared shoulders, a raised chin.
The severity of Hildy’s posture was so well known around the office that anyone watching her at 9:02 in the morning on the third Friday in August would have noticed the twitch. But no one was looking. They were sucking jelly filling from their fingers. They were licking powdered sugar from their sticky lips. They didn’t see the quiver in Hildy’s shoulders, the way her chest deflated, for a moment looked concave.
It was just a flash. The briefest of moments. Hildy’s perfect posture crumpled. Then the moment passed. She readjusted, stood even straighter than before in case someone had seen and needed reassurance that she hadn’t broken. She smiled tightly. She was holding a tray in her hands and her knuckles were white.
Dark chocolate and lavender truffles had been arranged lovingly on the tray, each in a miniature foil baking cup. Hildy had been up until midnight mixing ingredients, melting chocolate, rolling balls, dusting them with cocoa powder.
Collins took a bite of his éclair. Cream dribbled down his chin. “Morning, Hildy. Lane brought doughnuts.”
Hildy’s clutched her tray tighter. “I see. How nice of her.”
She set the truffles down on the break room counter. Not in the usual spot by the coffee maker, because that place of honor was occupied by three boxes of assorted doughnuts. Store bought. Hildy thought of the deep fried dough she’d made from scratch a few months back.
She left the break room and made her way to her desk. It was fine, she told herself. Lane was still new. She didn’t know Friday was Hildy’s baking day.
“Good morning, Elaine,” Hildy said, walking into the cramped human resources office.
Lane had a cruller in her hand. “Morning, Hil. I brought doughnuts.”
Hildy sat down and made her morning adjustments. Her name placard was tilted in the wrong direction. Her keyboard was pushed back an inch farther than she preferred. She’d left multiple notes for the cleaning service, asking them to leave her desk as it was, she could clean it herself, but they paid no attention.
“Did you get one?”
“What?” Hildy asked.
“A doughnut. I can grab you one.”
“No thank you.”
Lane shrugged and turned back to her computer.
Hildy wondered what Lane was doing over there, if she was even working.
Weeks ago, before Lane was hired, Hildy had made it clear to Mr. Everett that the human resources department didn’t need an assistant.
“I know, Hildy. We’re not saying you need someone. A little break would be good for you though. Someone to do the filing and that sort of thing. You’ll have time for the important work.”
To Hildy it was all important work.
“I can improve my time management skills if you think it’s causing problems.”
“It’s nothing like that. Look, the decision has already been made. We’re doing interviews.”
Hildy had clasped her hands together so firmly that she wondered if it was possible to snap her own fingers. Two weeks later Lane showed up for her first day. Hildy didn’t have a say in the hiring process. She wasn’t told anything about the applicants beforehand.
The first thing Hildy noticed about Lane was that she slouched. She was waiting for Hildy in the lobby that first morning and she stood with one of her knees bent. It threw her entire frame off kilter, instead of straight lines it was all funhouse angles. One of Lane’s hips jutted out. Her head was tilted to one side. Her foot tapped out a tune. She made Hildy think of a marionette.
Lane never sat still. Her foot jiggled, her fingers beat out rhythms on the desk, she shook her head and her sun-streaked hair flew. Lane was twenty-five but she had the boundless energy of a ten year old, as if she couldn’t be contained in the office, as if there was something buzzing inside her, making her vibrate, making her need to move, keep moving.
“Elaine?” Hildy had asked that first morning.
The girl grinned and held out her hand. “Call me Lane.”
Her teeth were crooked but movie star bright, a contradiction every time she smiled. It made Hildy cringe. So did the nickname. Hildy hated nicknames. She also hated button up shirts with the collar left open. It seemed lazy to her, as if the person got most of the buttons fastened and then gave up right before the end. Lane’s pants needed to be hemmed. Her loafers were scuffed.
“I’m Hildy Braun. You’ll be working under me. I suppose the first thing I should mention is that we keep to a business casual dress code.”
“Sure thing,” Lane said smiling. She adjusted the strap of her slouchy handbag.
“And we don’t tolerate tardiness.”
“Am I late?” Lane looked around for a clock.
“No,” Hildy said. Her toes curled inside her sensible low-heeled shoes. “I just want you to know what’s expected.”
And Lane had learned. Mostly.
With her desk straightened Hildy turned on her computer.
Thompson’s head popped around the doorway to the office. “Hey Hildy, you make these chocolate balls?”
Hildy barely glanced up. “They’re truffles.”
“Well, they’re pretty good. Be better if they were milk chocolate though.”
He left, disappearing into the network of offices and cubicles where the other lawyers and their lackeys worked. Hildy pressed her tongue firmly to the roof of her mouth.
“You made truffles?” Lane said. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I bake every Friday,” Hildy said.
“Oh. I didn’t know that was, like, a thing.”
“It’s not a thing. Just something I like to do.”
“I wouldn’t have brought doughnuts if I’d known.”
But it wasn’t fine. Every time Hildy ventured from the HR office that morning she saw people holding doughnuts, as if there was an endless supply. After lunch, when she was sure no one would be around, Hildy slipped into the break room. The doughnuts were gone, empty boxes still piled next to the coffee maker. A nearly empty pot of coffee had been left on the burner. The bottom of the carafe had blackened and the break room was filled with a burning smell. The smell of something very wrong. Hildy saw that the truffles were only half gone.
She switched off the coffee maker. Her heart was pounding. She bit the inside of her cheek as she rinsed out the scorched coffee carafe, scrubbed out the thick sludge at the bottom.
Only two people complimented Hildy’s truffles that day. Lane was one of them.
“God, Hil, these are amazing,” Lane said. She popped another truffle into her mouth. “You mind if I take some home? My boyfriend needs to try these. He’d probably be my husband by now if I could make food like this.”
“Take them all if you want.”
And how many people thanked Lane for the doughnuts? Ten? Fifteen? As if they couldn’t go down the street and buy some for themselves. As if Lane had actually put any time or thought into them.
In her apartment that night Hildy sat at the kitchen table with palms flat out on the heavily polished wood surface. Her white and gold Papillion was below her resting his head on her feet. The Papillion didn’t have a name, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t loved. The dog was one of Hildy’s two indulgences. There’d been a dog in her first foster home. The best foster home. It had been a mutt, a terrier mix called Dandelion. When Hildy was taken away to live with Miss Ansley she wanted to take Dandelion with her. She hadn’t understood how the system worked yet.
Hildy’s second indulgence was baking.
Hildy loved baking. She’d loved it since she was fourteen and her third foster mother had taught her the rules of making bread. How you had to use an exact amount of yeast. How you couldn’t knead the dough too much or too little. How you had to get every detail just right.
Baking was not the same as cooking. Hildy hated cooking. It was too reckless. Too easy to alter recipes and throw in a dash of this or that just because you felt like it. Too easy to sub things out, to add more or less of an ingredient. Baking, on the other hand, was precise. It was specific, clear cut. There were rules. There were steps to follow. Too much sugar, too little flour, the bottom oven rack instead of the middle. One little detail could change everything, could make the difference between mediocrity and something people would talk about for years, would beg to know the recipe for.
Baking made sense, and Hildy felt like she made sense while she was doing it.
Hildy told herself the doughnuts didn’t matter. She was the baker. Everyone in the office knew that was her role and they loved her for it. They were only fawning over Lane because she was new and young and tan. Because she made it so easy for them to fawn over her. Eventually they would get tired of her.
But the thought didn’t make Hildy’s teeth ache any less. The back teeth on the right side, the place the dentist said was worn down. Bruxism, he said. Hildy’s teeth twinged and popped with pain and she told herself over and over again it was going to be okay.
Eventually she got up, filled a bucket with baking soda and hot water, and scrubbed every crack and crevice in her refrigerator. She threw away anything that had been in there longer than two weeks: ketchup, salad dressing, a stick of butter. She took out the drawers, soaked them in the sink. She even unscrewed and wiped down the light bulb.
Hildy didn’t go to bed until two o’clock that night. But she went satisfied.
Everyone who’d ever tried Hildy’s pistachio and lemon cream macarons fell in love with them. Crisp meringue giving way to the chewy, ganache filling. They were light and airy but packed with flavor, something you wanted to let sit on your tongue as long as possible. They made Hildy think of communion wafers.
The Friday following the incident with the doughnuts Hildy set her alarm for four-thirty. Before the sun rose she mixed, sifted, beat, piped, and folded. She took a shower during the fifteen minutes the outer shells were in the oven. While they were cooling she carefully twisted her hair into a chignon. She assembled the macarons, arranged them on a platter, and left for work.
Andrews was flirting with the receptionist when she walked in.
“What’s this?” he asked when he saw her.
“Pistachio and lemon cream macarons,” Hildy said, and before the words were all the way out of her mouth Andrews plucked one from the platter with his sausage fingers and popped the entire pastry into his mouth.
Hildy’s muscled tightened. Macarons were meant to be eaten in small bites. They were meant to be savored.
“Not bad,” Andrews said. He grabbed two more. The receptionist giggled.
Hildy set her platter near the coffee maker, started a new pot brewing, and went to her office to wait for praise.
It never came.
By lunch Lane was the only person who’d commented.
“What are these? They melt in your mouth. God, Hil, why are you working here? You could open your own shop.”
“They’re macarons,” Hildy said, her eyes on her computer screen, fingers pecking on the keyboard.
“I thought those had coconut,” Lane said.
Hildy took a deep breath, held it until it hurt. “Those are macaroons. These are macarons. It’s only the difference of one letter, but they’re very unalike.”
“Huh. The things you learn.”
A few passing comments were made. But no one swooned. People thanked Hildy for bringing in the treat, but no one worshipped her. At the end of the day Hildy picked up her platter from the break room. There was a single macaron left. Hildy felt the bible on her head waver, start to fall, but she righted herself. She lifted her head, breathed deeply. Slowly, carefully Hildy used the palm of her hand to flatten the remaining pasty, squeezing the insides out, crushing it until there was nothing left.
On Tuesday Lane brought in cookies.
“You inspired me,” she told Hildy, laughing like it was a game.
They were chocolate chip. A basic recipe. Too flat.
“You didn’t use enough flour,” Hildy said when Lane held out the plate of cookies to her. “You should also chill the dough before baking.”
“Well, I’m still learning,” Lane said with a grin.
Hildy waved away the offered cookies and went through her morning ritual. A file she’d set on the right side of her desk had been moved to the left. Her computer monitor was off though she’d left it on. Lane watched Hildy for a moment, then shrugged and left the HR office. Hildy heard her making her way through the building, shouting, “Who wants to see if my baking kills them?”
There was laughter in response. Jokes. Everyone took a cookie. Everyone loved the cookies.
Hildy only slept for two hours that night. The rest of the time has was flat on her back, eyes on the ceiling, arms at her sides. She worked her jaw, felt the grittiness of her teeth moving back and forth against each other. Her face ached. It felt inflamed.
She knew Lane’s cookies were mediocre. Why was everyone else pretending otherwise? Hildy thought of the hours she put into every recipe, the planning, the trial and error, paying attention to every detail to get it exact. She was better than Lane.
Hildy through of Andrews with his jowly face, McGee with her wrinkled blouses and ill-fitting skirts, Marino who smelled like something left in the sun to rot. They all disgusted her. Every single one of them. Pain shot through Hildy’s jaw.
Hildy noticed a smudge on the ceiling. A small one, but a smudge all the same. The pain in her face increased. Her head throbbed, and with each pulse she heard Lane, Lane, Lane.
She got out of bed. The Papillion raised its head and watched his master drag a ladder and a bucket of cleaning supplies into the room. Hildy started with the smudge. By time the sun came up every ceiling in the apartment had been cleaned.
Lane yawned without covering her mouth. She sighed, stretched, tapped her feet. Lane smiled often, spoke loudly, knew the names of everyone in the office in her first month of working there. Sometimes Lane hummed softly to herself while she worked. She crunched on potato chips during the day, dropping crumbs into the cracks on her keyboard.
Hildy clenched her jaw and tried to ignore it. She did her work. She kept to herself. She adjusted her desk every morning after the cleaning people moved her things. Or was it the cleaning people? Hildy watched Lane out of the corner of her eye. Could it be Lane? Lane sneaking in early every morning, making tiny changes, making things just the slightest bit off. The thought slid icily down Hildy’s rigid spine. Maybe Lane was trying to make her slowly go crazy.
She told herself that someone like Lane wouldn’t be employed for long. She’d been the one to file Lane’s resume. She’d seen her job history. Lane was not a person who believed in longevity. She’d leave. Or even better, she’d be fired. But there was a part of Hildy who knew she couldn’t count on that. Because Lane worked hard. She did her job well. And people loved her. They loved her and her flat, tasteless chocolate chip cookies.
There’s been a girl like Lane in Hildy’s fifth foster home. Hildy was almost out of the system by then, two more years and it would be over. The foster sister was younger than her. Beautiful, but slovenly. Vulgar. Cruel. She’d parade boys around the house and smile at Hildy, ask if she was jealous, ask if she wanted to watch. Hildy hated that girl.
“Hey, Hil?” Lane said.
Hildy clamped her teeth together, hard. Pain shot through her lower jaw. She hated being called Hil. She hated it as much as she hated that Lane had shortened Elaine, a nice, proper name, into something frivolous. Hildy hated frivolity.
Hildy had changed her own name. That was one of her few secrets. Her birth certificate pronounced her Hildie Braun. It made her cringe to think of the absurd “ie”. She remembered every document she’d written that name on, every check she signed, every job application, every school assignment. She remembered the bitterness that welled up in her, the way the “ie” burned with every stroke.
Her parents died in a car accident before she could ask them why. Why give their only child a name that would never be taken seriously? Would that “ie” be so cute when she was grown? Would it look adorable carved into her gravestone? Hildie. Almost Heidi. A name that conjured up imaged of pigtails and peasant blouses. A name no one could respect.
Hildy’s twenty-first birthday present to herself, the only present she received that year, was a name change. The “ie” became a “y”. She’d toyed with the idea of changing her name completely. To something practical. She could become an Ann. A Mabel. Trudy. Jane. Dorothy. Hildy even imagined choosing a romantic name like Rose or Grace. But in the end the options were overwhelming and she found herself unable to sleep at night, grinding her teeth and running an endless stream of names through her head the same way she would years later when trying to choose a name for her Papillion. In the end she settled on simply changing the spelling of her name. The Papillion remained nameless.
“Hil?” Lane said again.
“What?” Hildy’s French braid was so tight that it pulled the skin back from her face, so tight it hurt, but that was okay. It was good.
“What are you baking this week?” Lane asked.
“That’s not your business.”
Hildy didn’t turn to look at Lane, but she could imagine the wounded look on her face all the same.
“Geez, Hil. I didn’t know it was such a big deal.”
“Well, it is.”
She’d put a lot of thought into what she would bake. It had taken her hours to settle on the recipe. Chocolate chip cannoli cups. Simple, but elegant. A classic with a twist. And clearly the office liked chocolate chips.
Hildy made the pie crust and fit it into miniature muffin tins on Thursday night. On Friday morning she filled the cups with sugary ricotta cheese mixed with shavings from a vanilla bean. She garnished them with chocolate chips. She marched them into work with her spine even straighter than usual, the invisible bible in place, the posture of an old movie star, an Egyptian queen.
“Why are they in cups instead of tubes?” asked Novak.
Hildy clenched her hands into fists.
“These got ricotta in them?” asked Phillips. “I can’t stand that stuff.”
Hildy dug her nails into her palms.
And so the weeks passed, each the same as the last. Hildy made cinnamon pecan bread. Lane made chocolate cupcakes. Hildy made orange blossom baklava. Lane brought in doughnuts again. Hildy made white chocolate cranberry scones, and mocha cheesecake pie, and salted caramel fudge. Lane made peanut butter cookies.
The more Hildy baked the less compliments she got, which only made her bake more. She just needed the right recipe. When she found it people would stop paying attention to Lane and her cookies and doughnuts and blond hair and pirate smile. Lane with her slouchy pants and the sweater that slipped indecently off her shoulder, showing her bra strap. Lane who never wore makeup, who drove a rusty old car, who always smelled like sunscreen and salt water. Lane who everyone adored, Lane the office princess.
Oh, and how they loved everything Lane brought in. They gushed. They oozed. Hildy clenched her jaw. She bit her lip. She dug her nails into her skin.
At night she cleaned and planned what she would make next. She took everything out of the pantry and wiped down the shelves, she washed all the clothes in her closet by hand, she reorganized her sock drawer twice. And all the while Hildy ran through recipes in her mind. Her jaw was on fire, pain shot through her face and in her mind she combined ingredients, set timers, placed her creations on cooling racks.
She put a solution of water and bleach in a small bowl, dipped a toothbrush in it, and scrubbed the grout on her bathroom floor. She was on her hands and knees, the tile biting into her skin, and she scrubbed and scrubbed and couldn’t remember what color the grout had even been to start with, only that she was making it white. Pure.
When Hildy glanced behind her she saw the Papillion nosing around the bowl of bleach. Tentatively he stuck out his tongue and lapped some up.
“No!” Hildy pulled the bowl away. Liquid sloshed over the sides. The dog whimpered, backed off.
Hildy’s scooped the Papillion into her arms and held it against her beating heart. She buried her face into its fur, breathing in the warm dog smell. How much bleach would it take to make him sick? How much had he actually consumed? Hildy felt something bad in the pit of her stomach. A warning. She was losing touch.
She rocked back and forth with the dog and considered letting go. Putting a stop to her and Lane’s feud. But then she remembered Lane’s face when people complimented her. The casual shrug of her shoulders. Her stupid aw, shucks look, the way she acted like it was nothing, nothing at all, when really it was everything.
No. She wasn’t ready to end it. But she would be more careful.
Hildy stopped limiting her baking to Friday. She had a mission and she wasn’t spending all week waiting for the right day to roll around. She baked three times a week, occasionally four. She skipped dinner more and more often and lost weight, her birdlike bones showing through her skin. She rarely slept. She baked, and she cleaned. The Papillion watched her and whined.
Hildy knew Lane was trying to ruin her. That much was clear. She might pretend to be otherwise, but Hildy knew Lane was like all the others, a girl who masked her cattiness behind a crooked smile. The kind that pretended to be your friend just to find your weakness. Hildy figured it was jealousy. That’s how girls were. Not just girls, women too. Her third foster mother had been jealous of her. Probably jealous of the perfect posture she’d been taught by her previous foster mother. But Hildy couldn’t be broken. Not by her foster mothers, not by Lane. She knew to keep her bible on her head. Hildy’s spine stayed straight.
On the day Hildy brought in a red velvet raspberry trifle, Lane ruined her hair.
It could have been innocent, but Hildy knew better. Lane needed a file from the shelf above Hildy’s desk. She reached for it, the open cuffs of her shirt dangling down, one of the unsecured buttons catching in Hildy’s meticulous French twist. Lane jerked her hand back. Just like that the French twist, which Hildy had spent twenty-five minutes getting right, was pulled out of the pins that held it in place.
Lane gasped. “Oh Hil, I’m so sorry.”
Slowly, like someone in shock, someone who can’t quite comprehend what’s happened, Hildy brought her hand to the back of her head to feel the damage. Hair that had been rolled, pinned, and sprayed into the perfect shape was now sticking out in clumps.
Hildy went very still.
“Here, let me fix it,” Lane said, reaching out.
“Don’t touch me.”
Hildy stood. Her back made a straight line, her invisible bible carefully balanced on her ruined hair. She made her way to the bathroom and felt eyes on her. Judging her. Laughing at her.
Hildy quietly opened the bathroom door, stepped up to the mirror. Her jaw ached. Her right eye twitched. Tendrils of pain snaked down her neck.
She pulled the pins out of her French twist, lined them up on the sink as she went. Her hair tumbled down around her shoulders. Inappropriate in the work place. Lazy.
The door shot open and Lane bounded into the room. “Please don’t be mad at me.”
“I’m not mad.”
“It was an accident, Hil. My button snagged. You know it was an accident.”
“I know no such thing,” Hildy said. She never looked at Lane, only concentrated on her hair, pulling out tangles, smoothing bumps, bringing order back into the world.
“Are you serious? Why would I want to mess up your hair?”
Hildy heard the incredulity in Lane’s voice. The put-on incredulity. Hildy hated liars. She hated people who played games, who didn’t show all their cards at once. People who pretended to be your friend then sneakily went behind your back and tried to destroy you, tried to burn down everything that you’d built for yourself.
And while Lane did it she smiled, tossed hair out of her face, tapped her foot, shifted her weight from side to side. In perpetual motion, every move as smooth as running water. As if Lane’s body were an incidental thing, something she never thought about, never tried to control.
“I know you,” Hildy said. “I know what you’re doing.”
“What I’m… What? Come on, Hil. You’re not serious.”
Hildy rolled her hair, stuck in a pin, rolled another inch, pinned it again.
“I won’t let you destroy me,” Hildy said.
“Is this is joke?” There was laughter in her voice, she’d already decided it must be.
Hildy rolled and pinned, tucked the ends of her hair under and added more pins. Lane watched Hildy’s face and realized she was serious.
“Hey. That’s not how it is.”
Hildy’s hair was not perfect. She’s redone it as best as she could, but it wasn’t quite right. People would notice. People would say she looked unhinged.
“Hildy,” Lane said.
Hildy didn’t respond. She smoothed her hair one last time, centered her invisible bible on her crown, and left the bathroom.
That night Hildy took every book off her shelf, dusted it, and put it back. She wiped down all the baseboards. She went through half a box of cotton swabs cleaning out the window runners. The pain in her jaw, her face, her neck, was a constant ache. She couldn’t unclench her teeth.
Nothing was safe. Her baking wasn’t safe. Her hair wasn’t safe. What was next? Her job? Then what? Where would it stop? How far would Lane go?
Hildy’s jaw screamed in pain. Her head pounded. It thumped in time with her movements as she cleaned the windows. Her eyes burned. Even her hair seemed to hurt, her scalp itched. She could still the way Lane’s button had hooked her.
But Hildy wasn’t ready to give up. She’d made it so far. She made it through the foster homes. She made it and she kept her bible on her head the whole time. Nothing had beaten her.
It was up to Hildy to stop her. Hildy stopped scrubbing.
Her headache went away. A warm, liquid feeling spread through her body. It felt like her insides ballooned, filled up with something that stopped her breath for a moment it was so powerful. It was a feeling Hildy was not familiar with. Euphoria.
Hildy went to the store. She bought a box of yellow cake mix and chocolate icing. After so many years of baking, all the hours she’d put into making things from scratch, measuring cocoa powder, rolling out dough, whipping icing, after all those years the boxed cake mix seemed absurd. A joke. It took longer for the oven to heat than it did to make the cake.
Hildy added eggs. She added oil. She added a cup of hate. A quarter cup of rage. Two teaspoons of bitterness, a dash of jealousy.
Hildy put everything into the cake. And she couldn’t help the smile that turned up the corners of her mouth. A real smile. Though it was normally something Hildy was opposed to, that night was special. She gave herself permission to throw back her head and laugh. Her house filled with the aroma of her boxed yellow cake and her hatred burned hot inside her stomach, and pain shot down the side of her face, but Hildy laughed and laughed.
Hildy served the cake herself, a smile fixed on her face. She cut the biggest piece for Lane.
“An apology,” she said, offering the plate, “for the way I acted yesterday.”
Lane grinned. “No hard feelings. We all have those moments.”
Hildy watched Lane fork up a big piece of cake, too big, not a proper bite. She shoveled it into her mouth.
Ross clapped Hildy on the back, “Great cake, Hildy.”
Jefferson said, “Think I can get your recipe for this?”
Elton said, “That really hit the spot.”
Hildy watched them eat, listened to them praise her, and her teeth were clenched together the entire time.
She didn’t know who went home first or what symptoms that person might have displayed. She didn’t care. She sat at her desk as the office emptied out.
Lane lasted longer than Hildy thought she would. When she finally told Hildy she had to go home for the day there was a sheen of sweat on her forehead.
“Do you think it could be something in your cake?” Lane asked. “Maybe the eggs were expired.”
Hildy just looked at her.
“Well. Okay then. See you tomorrow, I guess.”
Hildy gave her a tight lipped smile.
Then Lane was gone and Hildy wondered if everyone else was as well. She decided to see.
The office was a ghost town. The computers hummed and the air conditioning whistled through the vents, but there were no signs of life. Hildy wandered from desk to desk. She let her fingers trail over the backs of chairs and didn’t worry about how unsanitary it was. She picked up coffee mugs and looked inside. She tapped her fingers across a keyboard. She pressed down on a stapler.
The pain in Hildy’s jaw had spread farther, she felt in her right shoulder, giving occasional twinges. Soon it would run all the way down her arm, she figured. Soon it would take over her entire body.
Hildy went into the break room. There was one small slice of cake left. Waiting for her. Why would it be sitting there alone, so perfectly on display, if she wasn’t meant to eat it? Hildy picked up a fork and let it hover above the cake.
Then she saw herself kneeling in front of a toilet on a dirty bathroom floor, heaving, germs buzzing through the air around her, the knees of her pantyhose grimy from the tile. Sweating, dirty, disgusting.
Hildy put the fork down.
She went back to her office and sat at her desk. Someone had moved her coffee mug. Her highlighter wasn’t quite where she left it. Pain radiated through Hildy’s body. Her head and heart throbbed in synch with each other. But it never showed on her face. Her face was unlined, expressionless. Her spine never touched the back of her chair. She kept her chin up. The bible was balanced on her head, and she knew she would never let it fall.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Chelsea Sedoti is originally from eastern Ohio but grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her experiences and memories in these regions have been a large influence on her fiction. When she’s not writing, Chelsea spends her time rock climbing, baking and exploring abandoned places.