The deficit is gone!
Henry and Henrietta showed up at the office. Both were exhausted from the night prior and did not want to return as early as they were, but the text they had received from Darlene felt urgent. When they arrived, Darlene looked exactly as she had when they left her. Like, exactly. It was very likely from her appearance that she had just stayed the night in the office. The only difference was that her hair was slightly flatter a musty looking. Darlene led them into the conference room and sat down.
“I appreciate you for coming in on such short notice,” she said. “I think it’s time that we go through our first employee performance evaluation.”
Henrietta raised her hand.
“Are we doing this here and now or will we have them one on one,” she asked.
“Both,” Darlene said. “They will be here, now, and I will speak to you one at a time.”
Henry and Henrietta nodded slowly.
“Let’s start off with you, Hen.”
Darlene pulled out a yellow legal pad that filled with tiny writing. She flipped through several pages until she came across one with the header ‘Hen’ written in big block letters.
“Okay, Hen. I want you to know not to take this evaluation of your performance and personality personally,” she said, combing through the text. “You really dropped the ball this shift, and your scores will reflect that.”
Henry swallowed hard.
“I have written down here that you abandoned the gate during your shift, is that correct?”
“And that when you abandoned the gate, you were not operating the gate.”
“I also have written here that on your public Facebook page, you regularly misuse punctuation.”
Darlene produced a screenshot that had been taken of a computer screen with an actual camera. The image was distorted and covered in lines, but Henry could make out his status from the night prior: “First day of work tonight! Excited!”
“‘Excited’ is not a full sentence,” Darlene said.
“Wait, is the issue me using Facebook during work? Because I posted this before I was at work.”
Darlene inched her face closer to Henry, not like romantic-tension close – they were still a table away from one another – more, ‘the raptors in the kitchen’ scene from Jurassic Park’ sort of close.
“Henry, I have told you once before not to speak with me tersely. This is not a time to attack me for something that you did,” she said. “While you were not on the clock, you were still technically employed here, and when you are employed here you must always be on your best and most professional behavior. Poor punctuation use is unprofessional and will not be tolerated. We might also have to speak about your Tumblr blog.”
“It’s an aesthetic blog,” Henry whimpered.
“And I don’t appreciate the aesthetic,” Darlene hissed.
She sat back in her chair.
“Plus you have some serious issue with photo citation, which-”
Darlene was interrupted by her phone ringing. She stopped speaking, took a full five seconds to dig the phone out of her purse, and picked it up. It was Verge at the gate. He told her to come quickly and hung up without explaining further. Darlene set the phone down.
“Well, it looks like we have a special assignment that will interfere with the evaluations today,” Darlene said. “Henri, you get a default ten out of ten. Hen, I will only give you a seven out of seven; you have room for improvement. Now come with me.”
The three walked out of the conference room, past the locker – Henry gave it a double take after hearing a phantom barking sound that was entirely in his imagination – and out the door. The same buzz sounded through the cul de sac, and when Henrietta looked up, she saw that the street lights were still on. A car was parked at the gate. To figures, one presumably Verge, stood next to it, and as they reached closer they could hear yelling. Further inspection revealed the second figure to be Jon.
“They let me go!” Jon yelled. “And either you let me leave now or I will drive through someone’s lawn!”
Verge saw Darlene and gave a sigh of relief. Jon saw Henry and Henrietta and immediately grabbed for his keys.
“No!” Verge yelled. “Hen, get him.”
Henry, looking to please, sprinted full force at Jon. Jon was standing in front of his car, so he wasn’t in an optimal position to be tackled. Unsure what to do with his momentum and without much time to think, Henry reach his arm back and punched Jon squarely between the eyes. His head fell back and smacked the rearview window. He slumped to the ground, conscious, but very dazed.
Verge made a crayfish clawing motion with his hand toward Darlene and she handed him a zip tie. Verge bent down and bound Jon tightly at the wrists. Jon moaned in pain. Darlene clapped merrily. Henry tried to catch his breath, and Henrietta observed everything with confusion.
“This is the one they’ve been looking for,” Verge. “He just drove right in.”
“I just need to get my shit and leave,” Jon said from the ground. “You told me I was free to leave.”
“Yes, well that was before I got a warrant for your arrest in the group chat,” Darlene said.
She bent down to Jon’s level and pulled out her phone to show him. It was a brief message explaining that one of Heather’s friends had run away from the party after an incident, accompanied by Jon’s profile picture.
“That’s a Facebook message from Liza to your book club,” Jon said. “That’s not an arrest warrant.”
“If this neighborhood was a city, Liza would be the police chief, so for all purposes in tents, it’s a warrant. Thank you for your work, Hen. I will be updating your evaluation to an eight out of eight.”
She reached down and tightened Jon’s constraints. Darlene stood up, pulling up Jon as she did. His body was limp, not so much from the punch, but more from Jon trying his hardest to defy Darlene’s will. Using this subordination and gravity against him, Darlene let go of the zip tie and Jon fell back to the ground face first, without his hands to catch him. His nose and teeth struck the ground and made a single audible click, like when you and your friend need to work together to draw something on a chalkboard, but you only have one stick of chalk, so – being the critical thinking individuals you are – one of you grabs the piece of chalk firmly by both ends and snaps it in two, making that sound not unlike a twig snapping but sharper and more high pitched.
“Okay, Darlene, let’s not get too crazy,” Verge said. “He’s not a dog.”
The two laughed together with concerning merriment. Darlene reached her hand into Jon’s jean’s pocket – an incredibly difficult task if you’ve never tried; jean pockets were meant to be accessed by the wearer and the wearer alone – and pulled out the car key. She threw it to Henry and commanded him to pull the car out of the way of the gate. Henry held the keys dumbly.
“But there won’t be anyone to open the gate even if someone wanted to come through,” Henry pondered.
“Hen, if you weren’t you, I would tell you to tackle you right now. Now go move that car away from the gate, and let’s get going.”
Henry obliged and got into the car. It was filled with the normal amount of trash that one might expect from a car owned by an individual of Jon’s demographic, but the air carried a strong smell of wet towel, and Henry couldn’t locate a wet towel. He turned on the car and pulled it over to the side of the road. The wheel was sticky. Not sticky in a ‘visibly noticeable and tangibly noticeable when putting one’s hands down’ way, but sticky in a ‘when you take you have to go hand-over-hand to turn, each time you take your hand off the wheel, there’s a little resistance; you hear a little sound, and you get the chills’ way. Henry exited the car gagging a bit.
“Your parking skills are subpar,” Darlene said.
The five made their way to Liza’s house.
Heather knew that her mother was following her, but kept walking until at least two rooms away from dining room. She stopped in a large living space with a piano, fireplace, and ample seating. Heather threw herself down onto the couch. Liza sat delicately next to her and brushed her hair with her hand. It was soft but bore the signs of having been vomited, slept on in a hospital, and only lightly washed in a sink without a proper shower. Billy and Ben crept in shortly after and stuck themselves to the walls. Heather’s face was pressed into a pillow. Though she couldn’t see who had walked in, she didn’t really care.
“How does it feel not being dead anymore?” Liza asked with a dreamy voice.
Her hand caught a knot and she brought in her other hand to work on it.
“Not as lively as I was hoping,” Heather replied after a moment of contemplation. “I just feel like my whole body has a headache.”
Billy’s mind said ‘straight people be like,’ but his heart said ‘keep it in your head or text it to Ben’. Liza nodded consolingly and continued stroking Heather’s hair.
“You know I’ll always support you in whatever decision you make,” Liza said. “If you want me to lock Chris in the cellar, we can lock him in the cellar. I’m pretty sure we could get away with that. Might have to cancel book club though. Or just uninvited Maggie… I think I’d be okay with that.”
Heather shook her head. She didn’t want that. Plus, it would be more appropriate to lock Connor in the cellar. Nothing made sense, and she just felt exhausted. All her life, if she had bad dreams about a fight at school, or invasive thoughts about something mean she had done, Liza would tell her to either delegitimize it, or turn it into a lesson. She could look at that broken glass and say “you know, shit happens. We can get a new one,” or look at it as an opportunity to reflect on special awareness. But she couldn’t think of a way to get the thoughts away or come to a conclusion about Chris. Chris was someone that she had known for a very long time and someone for whom she cared about. As broken as he seemed, Chris wasn’t a smashed bottle of Côte-Rôtie that, come to think of it, was probably still laying broken and sour on the cellar floor. But if she chose to care about Chris, what kind of lesson was she supposed to learn from this? She just wanted someone to blame.
Thundering footsteps and shouting sounded from the foyer, and Liza jumped. Heather did too, not because of the sounds, but because Liza’s hands were still deeply rooted in her thick knotted hair. Liza turned, expecting to see Andy beefing with Chris and Paul, but instead it was Darlene, her crew in tow. Darlene stormed to the center of the room, black combat boots getting dust on the carpet, and threw the heap of Jon onto the ground. Now Heather jumped. She had turned her head briefly to see what was going on and – with her head on the couch low to the ground – seen Jon’s crumple to the floor far closer than she would have liked had she been given warning.
Heather scooted back into a seated position and stared at the lump. His face was swollen and generally unrecognizable, but mostly unrecognizable because Jon wasn’t really a face one remembered. Or a body one remembered. Jon was a fairly unmemorable individual unless you were Paul. A police sketch artist could probably get a decent result interviewing Connor or Bailey or Jon’s own mother, would he or she be employed to do so, but that list capped off at three.
“Caught without a leash,” Darlene said proudly.
Liza stared at the crumpled body with a like confusion to Heather’s. Billy and Ben squinted from afar.
“What have you put on my carpet?” Liza asked.
Darlene hesitated and turned to Verge. Verge turned to Henry, and Henry turned to Henrietta. Henrietta looked at the floor, and the lump spoke up.
“Jon,” Jon said, coughing.
Red flecks burst out of his mouth. They were dry flecks though, ones that you could probably vacuum up if you tried hard enough. Liza looked to her nephew.
“Which one is he again?”
“Paul’s brother,” Billy said.
It wasn’t his trauma, but just the presence of Jon made Billy start feeling nauseated for Heather of sympathy. Saliva built up in his mouth, and he swallowed.
More footsteps and the indistinct sound of three people struggling to take rubber gloves off of their hands because of that whole air tight seal effect came from around the corner. Andy, Paul, and Chris had made quick work of the dishes and came over to investigate the sound followed by Connor and Bailey who had been sitting at the table awkwardly. Chris recognized Jon on the ground. He wanted to feel happy at the sight of Jon’s visibly bruised and swollen face, but he just felt repulsed.
“Heather, would it make you feel any better if Chris kicked Jon?” Liza asked.
Darlene nodded quickly. She stared at Heather eagerly.
“I don’t think so?” Heather replied.
Jon, hearing all of this clearly, started to get up. Darlene moved over and took the kick herself. He collapsed back to the floor and chose not to move. It didn’t make Heather any happier. It made her already-pumped stomach sicker.
“Should we do more kicking?” Verge asked. “I imagine this one would be very good at it.”
He pointed to Henry who smiled sheepishly. Liza took a look at Heather and shook her head.
“No, you can leave,” Liza said. “There are far too many people in my house right now, and I’m having a hard time breathing.”
This was true. With she and Andy, Heather and Chris, Billy and Ben, Connor and Bailey, Paul and Jon, Darlene and Verge, and the two new hires she couldn’t remember the names of, there wasn’t even enough seats in the room might they have wanted to all sit down, and the room had ample seating.
Darlene made to pick up Jon and Liza stopped her.
“He’ll stay with us,” Liza said.
Darlene nodded and directed her team out the door. Henry turned back and tossed Jon’s car key toward him. They hit him in the left eye.