Janet was making coffee in the break room when Tod walked in. The room was dimly lit with only a few of the lights on. There was nobody else but them.
“What are you doing here so late, Tod?”
“I missed my freakin’ bus. Every night, they’re five minutes late. Today for once, I’m five minutes late and the bus is on time. Go figure.” He sat down hard on the sofa.
“Well, I’m making a fresh pot if you’re interested.”
Tod jumped up. “You’re the boss. I should be making you coffee.”
Janet smiled. “I’ll remember that. Next time you miss a bus and I’m stuck late doing staffing reports, I’ll make sure you do the honors.”
“Okay, but full disclosure, my coffee really sucks. No matter how careful I am, I always get grounds in the carafe.” He sunk back down into the sofa and groaned. “Gotta wait an hour for the next 618…”
Janet pressed the red button and the coffee maker gurgled to life. She then went to the chairs and selected one opposite of Tod. She’d been with the company 21 years and was the supervisor in the shipping department. Tall at 5’9”, she was the same height as Tod.
“So, how do you like the company now that you’ve been here a year?” she asked.
“I like it a lot. Best company I’ve ever worked for. And I’ve worked for several.”
“Yes. We try to make it like a family.”
“I’m proud to be a part of it.”
“That’s good because sometimes I get the feeling you’re not totally happy here. And I’m not the only one who thinks that.”
Tod shifted his feet and looked away from her. He studied the room. It was a long room lined with identical chairs and matching tables.
“No,” he said. “I do like it here. For instance, just look at this break room. It’s amazing. People actually clean up after themselves. You can eat off these tables. I mean, really, the other break rooms I’ve seen look like livestock ate there.”
“Okay. You’re a good employee. We’d hate to lose you.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes until the coffee maker beeped.
“Coffee’s ready,” she said.
“Yeah. I see that. I’ll go get us some.” He stood up and walked over to the cupboard and pulled out two mugs.
“Why do you think I’m not happy here?” he asked while he poured. “I’ve never complained about anything. Almost everyone has been really good to me.”
He carried the mugs back carefully. He placed one down on the side table next to Janet. He took a sip out of his as he sat.
“Ooh, hot.” He said as he blew on it.
“Almost everyone?” Janet asked.
Tod put his coffee down. “Well, let’s face it, no job is perfect. But I get paid well so I don’t say shit.”
“Let’s say we’re not supervisor and employee here. Let’s just be Janet and Tod, okay?”
“Do I have your word on that? Nothing I say leaves this room? Ever?”
“Okay. I trust you. You’re definitely one of the good ones. And I get the feeling I know where this is going. This is about Shannon, isn’t it?”
“You weren’t at her service last week. We shut down operations for the day so people could go. Everyone noticed you weren’t there. I figure you had your reasons.”
“Had my reasons? I told everyone I got sick that day. Food poisoning. I had some rancid macaroni salad in the fridge. Don’t you believe that?”
She shrugged. “You’ve never missed a single day of work. And you looked fine the next day.”
“It passed. But you should have seen me when I was sick. I spent the entire day with my insides melting into the porcelain god. Can’t I be sick just one day without the hammer of Thor coming down on me?”
“Of course you can. And if that’s what happened, I believe you.”
“Well, that’s what happened. Alright?”
They drank their coffee without looking at each other. She read the paper and he twiddled his fingers on the handle of his mug. She stood up to go.
“Well, those reports won’t get done on their own,” she said.
“What is it?”
He downed the rest of his coffee like it was a whiskey glass. “Okay, so I wasn’t sick. I don’t want to lie to you.”
She sat back down. “What was it then?”
“Well, I do feel really bad about what happened. I mean, it was such a freak thing. She was just loading groceries in her car when she was shot. She didn’t deserve that. Nobody does.”
“And the fact that it came from a policeman’s gun almost a mile away seems almost surreal.”
“I heard they closed their pistol range down indefinitely until they learn exactly what happened.”
Janet nodded. “I just saw the official report earlier today. The police department was holding their annual pistol qualifications. One of their bullets ricocheted off the metal backdrop and went up into the air. They even matched the bullet to the specific gun it was fired from.”
“My God. It’s unreal.”
“If it’s any consolation, I don’t think Shannon felt much. The bullet was almost spent. But it hit the back of her head just hard enough to cause the bleeding in her brain.”
“Well, I’m very sorry it happened. I almost did go to her memorial but then I felt it would be disingenuous. I worked for her on the floor, but she didn’t really like me.”
“Why do you think that?”
He took in a deep breath. “Look, I know you and her were friends so I don’t want to say anything bad, you know?”
“Tod, you’re a reasonable person. I know that from seeing you here every day. If you had a problem with her, I know you have reasons.”
“Well, the truth is she hated me, Janet. You can fire me or whatever for what I’m about to say, but it’s true…”
“Whatever you tell me here is confidential.”
“I really don’t care if it’s confidential or not anymore. I just know she hated me. She requested me for her department six months ago just to torment me. Everywhere I went, she was behind me. I started to get paranoid in my own workstation. She used to circle little tiny errors in my shipping docs in red marker and give them back to me. I do the best damn reports in my department and everyone knows it. But nobody else faced the scrutiny I did, day after day after day. I spent more time in her office getting counseled than the rest of the team put together. Did you know she would sneak up behind me while I was at the computer doing work orders? I would turn around and see her blank eyes looking down at me through her glasses. And she would just be staring, waiting for me to screw up. Her face was always expressionless. She hated me, alright. And do you know why?”
“Because I was the outsider. I’m sorry I didn’t live up to the company tradition of having cousins and uncles working here, or that I haven’t worked here for forty years here like Betty and RJ. She wanted to get rid of me because I was just a drifter the cat dragged in. No matter how hard I worked, I couldn’t please her. She made my life miserable. Do you know how many times I almost quit? But then I thought of the satisfaction that would give her and I refused to. So whenever she criticized, I would just smile at her and say ‘Yes, Ma’am.’ But I gotta be honest with you, Janet. I’m glad she’s dead. There. I finally said it, okay? Now I’m the bad guy she always thought I was.”
Tod shot up to a standing position, hands shaking with emotion. He started walking out.
“Tod,” she said.
He stopped. “What!”
Janet stood up and walked to the sink, pouring out the rest of her coffee. “Shannon was my best friend. We shared everything. She didn’t hate you.”
“She was in love with you.”