Chapter no 18

The Coworker


To: Melinda Hoffman From: Seth Hoffman Subject: Tonight

I’ll be home late tonight. Eat without me. I’ll grab dinner for myself on the way home.

To: Seth Hoffman From: Melinda Hoffman Subject: Re: Tonight

Again??? How late are we talking? I wouldn’t mind eating on the late side…

To: Melinda Hoffman From: Seth Hoffman Subject: Re: Tonight

It’s really busy here. Completely swamped. Probably won’t be till after ten. Eat without me. Really sorry, will make it up to you.

To: Seth Hoffman From: Melinda Hoffman Subject: Re: Tonight

But promise you’ll be home on time tomorrow, okay?

To: Melinda Hoffman From: Seth Hoffman Subject: Re: Tonight

I promise. Love you.

To: Mia Hodge From: Dawn Schiff

Subject: Re: Greetings

Dear Mia,

I had the most terrifying experience this morning.

When I got to my cubicle this morning at 8:45 AM, there was already a woman standing in the middle of the small square space. She had on a black trenchcoat, and her stringy brown hair was pulled into a bun that had come partially unraveled. Natalie sometimes wears messy buns, but hers

are stylishly messy. This woman looks disheveled. Like she slept in the street.

The scariest thing was the glint in her eyes. I might not be skilled at reading facial expressions, but it was clear this woman was furious. She looked so frightening that I took a step back. She accosted me and started asking all these questions about whose cubicle it was, and it sounded like she was looking for Natalie, so I pointed her in the direction of Natalie’s cubicle.

Of course, it occurred to me right after that this woman might mean Natalie harm, and perhaps it was unwise to tell her where Natalie’s cubicle was. But it was too late.

The woman pushed past me, jostling my shoulder. I swiveled my head to watch her march into Natalie’s small space, still unoccupied. The woman dug something out of her purse as I studied her facial features—she looked familiar. I had seen this woman somewhere before. I was sure of it.

Finally, the woman retrieved a folded sheet of paper from her purse. After a hesitation, she placed the paper on Natalie’s desk and dropped the turtle figurine on top of it so it wouldn’t fly away.

“Make sure Natalie gets that note,” she instructed me.

I nodded, afraid to refuse the woman. And just as she was marching off, I realized why she looked familiar. I recognized her from a photograph. The one on Seth’s desk.

She was Seth’s wife.

I looked around the office. Natalie was nowhere in sight. She rarely showed up before nine, so it would be a while before she came in and discovered the note from Seth’s wife. I wondered what it said.

You know I am not the sort of person who usually snoops. I find it detestable, to be honest. But I thought it was important that I investigated what the note said. What if it said that there was a bomb in the building? If I didn’t look at that note, everyone might be killed. It would be irresponsible of me not to look at the note.

I took one last peek around to make sure nobody was watching me. Then I slipped into Natalie’s cubicle, right next to mine. I took the note out from under the turtle and carefully unfolded it.

The note was written in red ink. Scribbled, really. The handwriting was messy but large enough that it was easy to read what it said:

If you touch my husband again, I will kill you.

I stood there for a moment, reading and rereading the message. If you touch my husband again, I will kill you. The message was written by Seth’s wife. That means her husband was… Seth. So she was telling Natalie that if she touched Seth, she would kill her.

No, actually, she said that if Natalie touched Seth again

she would kill her.

I was still working it all out when I felt a searing gaze boring into me. I ripped my eyes away from the note. Natalie was standing at the entrance to her cubicle, her arms folded across her chest. I could tell by the way the corners of her lips were turning down that she was not happy with me.

I was so embarrassed that she caught me. You know I don’t usually snoop, but after something like that… well, I couldn’t help myself. I started stammering out an apology, explaining my concerns about a possible bomb threat, but even to my own ears, it sounded incredibly inadequate. I should not have read the note. It was an inexcusable invasion of her privacy.

Thankfully, Natalie didn’t press the issue further. She plucked the note out of my hands, and I watched the way all the color drained from her face as she read those ten words.

“Shit,” she muttered under her breath, which seemed like a very reasonable response given the circumstances.

But at least now her ire was directed at the other woman and not me. I figured this was a good opportunity to make up

for my transgression, so I asked if there was anything I could do.

“You can mind your own damn business from now on, okay?” was what she said.

I told her I would, but she kept pressing me. She said I couldn’t tell another soul about this. And that if I did, she would make sure I was sorry. Really and truly sorry.

I was so freaked out, I took a step back and bumped into her desk. My fingers knocked into the turtle figurine, and it went toppling to the floor. Much like my mug, it shattered into several pieces on the floor.

Of course, then she yelled at me for how clumsy I was and said I should clean up the pieces of the figurine that I had so thoughtfully purchased as a gift—now destroyed beyond repair. To be fair, I was the one who knocked into it, so it was reasonable for me to clean it up. While I was cleaning, one of the shards sliced into my finger, but I ignored it, even when a drop of blood trickled out. I dumped the pieces of the turtle into her garbage pail.

I offered to buy her another one but she told me not to bother.

I kept my promise to Natalie for the rest of the day. I didn’t tell a soul about that note on her desk. Not that there was anyone I could tell. It wasn’t like I had a friend that I shared gossip with. I would have had to go out of my way to tell anyone.

But even though I kept my mouth shut, that didn’t mean I didn’t think about it. The whole day, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Natalie and Seth.

Now that I know the truth, it makes so much sense. He’s always smiling at her and talking about how great she is. And he always has his hand on her arm or shoulder. I thought he was just friendly, but he never touched me that way. Or anyone else. Just Natalie. And why wouldn’t he like Natalie? She’s beautiful and she’s nice and she’s smart and everybody likes her.

No wonder he didn’t like my idea about getting rid of lunches. Natalie has him wrapped around her finger. He can’t say no to her.

But after thinking about it all day, I don’t feel too bad about the whole thing. I had been upset that Seth didn’t like my idea, but it turns out, his rejecting the idea had nothing to do with whether he liked it or not. And now Natalie and I share a secret.

Maybe we can be friends after all. After all, there’s nothing that binds two people like a shared secret.

Sincerely, Dawn Schiff

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