It was thick and creamy leaving a layer across her teeth and down her tongue. Nicole hated having too much cream in her coffee. Other than it was a waste of calories it also took away the strong, biting taste of coffee which she enjoyed. She hadn’t wanted to fuss, because her coffee had been free. It was a kind gesture from a lovely women in the accounting department. But it wasn’t how Nicole took her coffee.
Nicole looked down at her desk. Piles of paper were neatly organized around meeting times, urgency, and breaks. In the middle was her coffee. Pulling her silvia from her tongue through her teeth Nicole tasted nothing but heavy dairy residue. She reached into her top desk draw and pulled out a piece of gum. She chewed it rapidly and spit it out after a minute. Her first meeting with her sales and marketing team would be starting in a minute, assuming everyone was on time as she requested.
About ten minutes into the meeting Nicole sensed that this was going to be a long one. For all of their misplaced efforts, Nicole wished half the team would take that time into applying for new positions. Though, maybe they had. For a moment Nicole was hopeful. She hated having to cut people from the team, but this was her business. She had invested her life into it. It wasn’t a daycare center for the feeble minded, participation trophy entitled, or utterly lazy. Before Nicole had grown enough to hire one or two people to be the marketing department, long before she had progressed enough to have a team, Nicole had done this shit herself. It was challenging, but it wasn’t hard, complicated, or impossible. Someone had said something so incredibly dumb, Nicole reached for a swig of her coffee to hide her disbelief and suppress a cackle. She eyed her Director of Sales and Marketing. Looking down, it was clear he understood what her look had meant. Nicole swallowed her coffee. Now colder than before, the cream slightly thicker, trailed down her throat slowly despite the urgency with which Nicole had pulled it back. The girl had reiterated her astoundingly dumb idea. The look of disappointment on Nicole’s face grew. The director called time on the meeting. They still had fifteen minutes left, but he and Nicole had to speak about an urgent matter.
For starters, Nicole couldn’t understand how after three weeks of working on the same project – the director understood her frustration and was himself highly disappointed in the team. It would be addressed, fixed, lighting would be cast into every team member’s asshole if it would make a different. Nicole tried to appreciate the enthusiasm, but it wasn’t their first conversation. The director had until next week to get them in shape before she stepped in herself. The director between blowing smoke of fairness and gratitude up Nicole’s ass asked her if she was okay. Nicole thought of the coffee. The bad taste in her mouth, the feel of slimy slugs sliding down her throat, the dance party the cream seemed to be having in her stomach. It was a lot. But of course Nicole was fine. She would be great if she wasn’t disappointed. Her expectations were higher than that meeting. Nicole picked up her coffee and used it to gesture to the door, before taking another sip. The director left as the lump of cream clotted in her throat.
Nicole picked up the stack of papers in front of her. Her next meeting was with the accounting department. In theory it would only be thirty minutes. Nicole typed out an interoffice message to Juan letting him know his assistant could stay back. While she wanted Joanne to learn from herself and Juan, Nicole couldn’t bear to look at the woman, who in an effort to be kind, was ruining Nicole’s day with the ever-cooling, coffee infused cup of dairy she had presented to Nicole. With all the reporting, Joanne was learning, it amazed Nicole that she hadn’t been able to order a cup of coffee correctly. Maybe she could have understood if it was Nicole’s specialty drink, a medium macchiato, with a sprinkle of cinnamon, and skim. But to mess up a large dark roast with two tablespoons of half and half seemed beyond absurd.
Nicole had just finished making her notes on the last page of the general accounting report sent to her by her assistant Sawyer when Juan walked in to her office. Her chest deflated as she saw Juan holding two cups of coffee. Extending one out toward her, Nicole reluctantly accepted. Of course it was from Joanne. Joanne who felt awful that she messed up her coffee earlier. Nicole was confused as Juan explained. Joanne made the coffee fresh for the accounting and engineering departments since they shared the same kitchen. Every morning she got in early, btu she came in especially early on meeting Mondays. When Joanne had seen Nicole come in empty handed earlier that day, she added an extra cup to her coffee station. Apparently she had messed up Juan’s order and Nicole’s. The last thing Joanne wanted was for Nicole to be mad at her. Not only did she respect Nicole, but she was so grateful for the opportunity. Hence the make up cup now sitting in Nicole’s hand.
Moving past the subject of coffee, whether good or bad, the numbers were what counted now. Outstanding bills needed to be paid, Juan understood that and had assigned the task to Mark. Juan was confident that he could close the gap for them. Nicole felt relief. She agreed with Juan’s assessment of Mark. She liked even more that Joanne would be monitoring his progress. Joanne had the potential to replace Juan, should Juan ever be promoted. Nicole was excited at the thought. She liked where her business was moving on an upswing. Taking a sip of what should have been her fixed coffee, disgust washed down Nicole’s throat instead. Joanne did not have the stuff to be a barista anywhere. Even in her own home.
The accounting meeting ended on time. Nicole looked back and forth between her coffees. One, in theory, would be better than the other. In theory again, one should be hotter than the other. Both felt warm to the touch. Not wanting to risk a spill, not after what happened to Nicole last week, she left the coffees closed. Deciding it was better to play coffee roulette and have productive meetings than to have a tidal wave of coffee cover the reports Sawyer had left for her on Friday. Sawyer, who always had the exact coffee she wanted on her desk waiting for her, had taken Monday and Tuesday of this week off. Vacation, with his girlfriend. If he hadn’t asked her to marry him by fall Nicole was going to pick out a ring, and have it sent over to her office with a romantic card. Since Annie worked for Nicole’s ex, with whom she shared custody of the dog, it wouldn’t be that hard to have Sawyer head over to meet Annie for lunch and a surprise engagement while picking up Bluie, the dog.
Nicole was dreading another day without Sawyer, but she was happy he was able to get away. She silently wished she could avoid her next meeting with the engineering department, at least until she had had a good cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes. Nicole surprised herself. She hadn’t had a downed a pack of cigarettes in two years. And that was a drunken one off. Not that she didn’t still enjoy her occasional sneaky smoke. Nicole thought about getting someone else to sit in on the meeting and translate from engineering technical speak to actual English. Exhausted by the thought, she picked up a coffee. Hoping this one that would taste like coffee and not like slushy milk water. It didn’t. Nicole made a mental note to not play the lottery today. Not that she usually did, but today was not her day.
She had just put her coffee down when her door opened. The look on the two engineers’ faces was enough to pick her coffee back up and drain the milky water. Nicole was repulsed by the coffee and discouraged by her employees. She did her best to bite her tongue as the two over complicated and over explained several major project statuses. Nicole felt there was room for improvement, for driving things forward and closing off some of these lingering issues, instead of saying anything she picked up her coffee and swallowed two mouthfuls. The taste was acrylic and bitter. Not the way she wanted her coffee, but also not as awful as the milk-tainted water from the first cup. Putting her cup on her desk, Nicole wrapped up the meeting and gestured for the engineers to leave.
Before they had closed her door fully Nicole had opened an email to Sawyer to translate that meeting upon his return. She really needed to take a break. The coffee wasn’t doing anything, but she had one more meeting scheduled before she could cut out for the rest of the day. Taking a deep breath in Nicole prepared herself for the worst. The bitterness had made her tongue pull back and launch forward. Nicole kept drinking. She drank until she finished it.
Nicole’s eyes fluttered. She felt airy and light as she sat up in her chair. In front of her was a very green and somewhat transparent Joanne. Nicole looked down at herself. First she was startled to see the back of her head, her body slumped over her desk. By the time she saw herself somewhat transparent and alarmingly a soft pink she had begun to think she was dead. When Joanne’s form began speaking, she knew she wasn’t. In a matter of seconds the room swirled. She was looking at Joanne’s green filled her slumped over body. The room pulled away. Suddenly she was looking at a picture of Joanne and her cat.
Blinking rapidly, Nicole felt wrong. The proportions of her body were off. Everything felt different. She regained her focus as an interoffice message popped up on the screen in front of her. Nicole had requested Juan to her in her office. Nicole’s mind raced. She had done no such thing. She had another meeting. She had to get back into her body. She had to get a grip. She had, she had, she had…
Nicole had fallen asleep in Joanne’s body. At least that’s how it felt when Juan had tapped her repeatedly in the shoulder. Juan handed her a note from herself and a tea. Nicole had requested to see her next. As a thank you for the coffees, Juan looked down at the tea. Nicole had a bad feeling, a meeting with her possessed self was exactly what she needed. The note instructed her to drink the tea and head immediately to her own office. Nicole did as the note instructed, adding one minor step to the process. With as much anger as Joanne’s body could convey, Nicole stormed into her own office.
As she sat the room swirled. Nicole opened her own eyes to see Joanne reaching for her with blood streaming down her finger tips. The taste of awful coffees and something else, swam in her mouth. Nicole recognized the taste. It was the taste of lies. Nicole reached for her desk phone as Joanne collapsed to the floor. Narrating the horrible events of witnessing her employee slit her own wrists in Nicole’s office was exhausting. The police called Juan up to the kitchen closest to Nicole’s office where they could discuss Joanne’s temperament. Nicole hugged Juan, reassuring him that as a director who lost their assistant to take the rest of the day and the week off after talking to the police. He could resume his regular duties next week. Juan pulled away from Nicole and nodded in agreement.
Nicole patted his shoulder as she walked away. Getting in her car, Nicole headed to her favorite conveinvent store. Purchasing a pack of red cigarettes and two large specialty coffees Nicole smiled for the first time today. It was sad that Joanne had died in her office. It was worse that she had tried to fire Juan and take his job when it was coming to her in time. It was even worse that she tried to fuck with Nicole and her company. No one would ever suspect Nicole could be a cut throat, or cut wrist, person. No one at least, who hadn’t tried to take her on. With an exhale Nicole released her smoke and with it the stresses of the day. In two thousand years she hadn’t been taken, as silly as it was that Nicole was momentarily compromised by a cheap elixir, it reinforced her eternal strength. Revving the engine on her sports car, Nicole peeled out of the parking lot leaving the day and its shittiness behind her.