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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Weekend Fiction Break: The Receptionist

She was nervous. She wore a stylish knee length brown skirt and her white cashmere sweater had a wide brown waist belt tied around it. Her skin was fair already, but all hint of color seemed to have been drained from it. One hand clutched at a small purse, the other would rest at her side for a moment then rise to brush aside her blonde bangs compulsively. She wobbled atop pointy-toed heels.

“How can I help you?” asked the secretary in clipped tones. The woman did not respond at first, her attention wandering around the room. Her eyes suddenly snapped back to the reception desk and she blushed deeply.

“Ummm… I’m here to see Tom Ciatta?”

The secretary resisted responding sharply with “Is that a question or statement?” and instead asked the young lady’s name.

“Glenda Hampton.”

The secretary scrolled through the computer. She took an extra moment longer than she needed. “Ah, Miss Hampton. He should be with you shortly. You can have a seat here.” She pointed towards a couch in the furthest corner from the reception desk.

A small squeak that could have been thank you escaped Glenda Hampton’s lips and she turned towards the couch indicated, docile as a sheep. Although there were magazines sitting on the table in front of her, she did not pick them up. She did not pull out a cell phone and start texting. She continued staring around the room, taking in the view. The room was not large, but it had been built and decorated to impress. The walls were painted a dramatic shade of blue, there was a tasteful arrangement of oversized seascapes for decoration. What was it exactly that pulled the entire thing together? Ah yes, the carpet, which was a sumptuous maroon and blue. Glenda searched the room carefully, noting that the outlets had a gold plating and the faux plant next to her had been dusted recently. The gold-plated outlets made her a bit nauseous. She thought about trying to run to the bathroom, but she wasn’t sure if she had the energy saved up to hassle with the receptionist again to find out where it was.

For her part, the receptionist went back to chatting online with her other bored receptionist friends. No one entered or left the reception area for a long time. The receptionist had learned how to look up automatically when she sensed movement, but the woman in the corner did not move much. So the receptionist did not notice when nearly an hour had passed and Glenda Hampton was still there.

Really, it was the arrival of the Executive Vice President who saved Glenda. He passed by the reception desk and nodded briefly at the receptionist. She looked up to accept his greeting (it wasn’t as if the Executive Vice President would ever greet her by name) and realized that the woman in the corner was still there. She was still doing nothing but looking around the room in something akin to real terror.

The receptionist looked down at her computer screen, where she had sent a message to Tom Ciatta over an hour ago. She had forgotten to check back, and her heart thumped loudly for a moment, but when she checked the dialogue box, his only response was okay. Okay could mean anything, and it certainly didn’t mean she should have done anything with Glenda Hampton. She typed Your guest is still waiting, but did not expect a response. Another moment passed, then she tried the phone.

To the receptionist’s surprise, Tom answered his phone himself. The receptionist was thrown off for a moment, but recovered and stated briskly that Glenda Hampton was waiting for him in the reception area.

An intake of breath on the other end, an overdone sigh. “Okay. Send her in.” His voice tone was as business-like as usual, but the receptionist could read volumes in his dramatic sigh. If it weren’t for the fact she had been working here now for some years now and was considered very discrete, he might have not relaxed enough to sigh at all. He had revealed everything in his sigh. She grinned a bit to herself. Now she felt for certain that her meanness was justified.

“Glenda Hampton?” she called loudly. Glenda Hampton startled and nearly fell out of her chair. She tripped on her way to the reception desk. “Tom will see you in his office. Go down the hall, take a left, and knock on the third door.” The receptionist looked back down at her computer almost instantly, but she saw out of the corner of her eye that Glenda Hampton had not moved. She was rooted to the spot and a tear was dribbling from her eye. When she noticed the receptionist staring at her, she wiped her eyes, then passed through the doorway.

The receptionist sorted through a few drawers for a slip of paper. While compulsively organized, she had not pulled this one out for several months. It was not titled and contained a short list of names.

Olga Tipperary
Karen Smith-Jones
Rebecca Stevens.

The receptionist waited. She surfed the internet, idly. Fifteen minutes, perhaps, went past. Glenda Hampton returned, but now the dribble of tears had become a fountain, and her pale face was a deep red. “There’s a bathroom down the hall,” called the receptionist and pointed. The woman seemed to no longer be able to see, but she did turn and stumble off in that general direction. The receptionist shook her head slowly, smiling as if she had eaten a particularly delicious treat.

The receptionist had not once had any compunction about politely informing the other three people from her list that Tom was out of the office even if she knew for a fact he was there. As an alternative, she especially enjoyed offering to connect them and then hanging up. They were persistent, but they all gave up eventually. They realized soon enough that both Tom Ciatta’s marital status and his promises of a shared life in a mansion by the ocean were not to be.

A few moments passed and the young crying woman came to the reception desk again. Her face was a little less red, now. She looked, for all the world, as if she’d recovered some confidence. She stood in front of the receptionist for a moment, as if gathering herself to do battle. The receptionist felt a flutter of nervousness. She didn’t like being confronted with Tom’s drama in person when there was no way to hang up the phone.

“Tell Tom,” said Glenda Hampton, “tell him something from me. He didn’t have time to listen, but I’m pregnant. I’m not planning on asking for money, because he’d find a way not to give it to me. But I just wanted him to know and I’m tired of being hung up on.” Then she marched away.

The receptionist did not message Tom. She did not call Tom. He would later ask her if Glenda Hampton had said anything on her way out, but she would answer in the negative. Instead, she took her list and added a name.

Glenda Hampton, it said at the bottom. The receptionist smiled a bit, then folded her list back up and placed in a drawer.

7 comments:

Debi said...

Wow, Kim, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this! Your "weekend fiction break" has fast become a favorite weekend treat for me!

Chris said...

That was awesome! I'm guessing you write these? I really enjoyed that...Looking forward to following this feature of your blog :)

Kim L said...

debi-It's nice to hear you've been enjoying it! I plan on keeping this feature a regular. I love reading your comments on my stories.

chris-yes, I write them. My New Year's resolution this year was to do more writing. Definitely check back for more fiction breaks.

Chris said...

That's great Kim! Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? If not, you should! It's lots of fun!

Kim L said...

chris-I haven't done it and I just learned about it today wandering through someone's blog. But it definitely got my attention! I'm totally thinking that I should work on a plotline and plan out a book now then do it this year.

Chris said...

You definitely should. The rules are that you can plan and outline, you just can't write until November 1st at 12:01 AM! There's an awesome book about the whole thing that's really short (about 150 pages) called "No Plot, No Problem". It's by Chris Baty, the guy who started NaNoWriMo. It describes the whole NaNo process and gives you tips on the process, writing tips, publishing tips if you decide to do that after, and advice from people who have done NaNo before. I found it to be really helpful. Made the whole process easier. Very humorous little book too.

Alice Teh said...

Wow, this is great stuff! I don't normally read short stories but yours is good... :)