Well, She Wasn't Invited

Submitted into Contest #178 in response to: Set your story at a work holiday party,... view prompt


Drama Fiction Christmas

Avery was looking forward to attending her Department Chair Paula’s annual Christmas party for the first time. She had started her position as an English professor at Aurora Community College in August. According to some of her colleagues, the party was the highlight of the year. Others remained silent about it. Avery’s office mate Crystal was very enthusiastic the closer it got.” Paula’s really cheerful and welcoming at her party. The food is always excellent, she has it catered from the Ensley Grille, and the champagne and conversations flow freely all night, but those aren’t the best parts of his party.”

“Really? Those things seem pretty good to me,” Avery said.”

“They are, but every year she has some unique activity set up. The December before COVID hit, she had us all decorating ornaments. Paula provided us with the baubles and paints, glitter, sequins, you name it. The year before that, she set up a winter-themed photo booth. We had such a blast striking silly poses in front of a glittery white snow forest backdrop, especially the more we drank.”

Avery recalled seeing several years’ worth of group holiday photos on Paula’s office bulletin board.  They consisted of some members of the English department wearing Santa hats, antlers, or necklaces made of lights. Never the whole department though. She had wondered why each year, one or two of her colleagues were missing but just assumed there were always people who couldn’t attend.

Avery wheeled her chair close to Crystal’s desk and whispered, “You say Paula is really warm at her party. Does she actually relax? She can be a bit intense at times…”.

Crystal stood up, closed the office door and sat down closer to Avery. “At times? Most of the time, she’s so amped up. Personally, I think she’s bi-polar. Sometimes she’s so nice, even relaxed; other times she wants to go for somebody’s throat or does that passive aggressive shit. You know how she’ll leave a voicemail on your office phone saying she needs to talk to you first thing in the morning, then isn’t available all day?”

Avery squirmed in her chair. “Unfortunately, I know that tactic all too well.”

“Yeah, she does that mostly with the newer people.”

 “Despite having issues, she has one very admirable trait, though.”

“What’s that?”

“She’s a forward thinker. Always seems to be one step ahead of the latest trends in education.”

“Yes, I’ll give her that. And, believe it or not, she’s very chill at her party and goes all out to make sure everyone has fun. Rumor has it that she’s doing an escape room this year.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s when participants must work together to solve puzzles and unlock clues within an allotted period. They’re really fun. The escape room will give us a chance to practice the critical thinking we teach.”

“Well, I look forward to it,” Avery said and rolled her chair back to her desk.

When Avery and her colleague Bernie arrived at Paula’s house, they marveled at how beautifully the house was decorated. Along the walkway were miniature Christmas trees lit with sparkly white lights surrounded by blinking red, green, and blue lights. The eve of the roof was decorated with the same colorful lights, and the shrubs were resplendent with white fairy lights. On the door hung a white birch grapevine wreath decorated with white and red berries and a cheerful red bow. They rang the doorbell and were greeted by Paula’s burly husband. “Come on in, Ladies,” he beamed. May I take your coats?”

Avery and Bernie removed their warm winter coats and handed them to Paula’s husband. “Thank you. Your house looks beautiful,” Bernie said.

James chuckled, his white teeth sparkling as much as the lights. “Ah, it’s all my wife’s doing. I just hang the lights. What are your names? I don’t believe I’ve met either of you before.”

“I’m Bernie and this is Avery. We just started at the college a few months ago.”

“I’m James, Paula’s other half. The bar is straight ahead. Horderves are on the dining room table to the right. Help yourselves. I’d better go see if Paula needs any help,” he said and pivoted towards the kitchen. I’ll let her know you’re both here.”

At the bar, Avery and Bernie chatted with their colleague Sean and his wife Karen, and each helped themselves to a glass of Prosecco. “Congratulations,” Sean said. “You made the guestlist your first year at the college. Sean stroked his long sandy beard. “I wasn’t invited my first year.  I was here every year after that but not five years ago. I still haven’t figured out why. “

Avery’s smile dissipated. “What do you mean? Paula doesn’t invite everyone in the department?”

“Oh no. In the eight years since Paula’s been Chair, I can’t think of a year when all of us have been invited. We always consider ourselves lucky if we make the list. “

“That’s crazy. How does she decide who she doesn’t want to invite?” Avery said.

“There’s no rhyme nor reason for her selection. As far as I can tell, the people she invites are just the ones she likes at the time. Don’t tell me you’ve never experienced her cold shoulder before?”

“Oh yeah, there were a few days not too long  after I started here that Paula hardly said two words to me, even though I tried to engage her in conversation….”

Bernie folded her slender arms across her laced bodice. “She’s been acting weird towards me for a few weeks.”

 Sean stood up straighter and spoke in a stage whisper, “So, what are you guys doing for the holidays?" then muttered, “Here she comes.”

Paula sashayed towards them in a red sequined dress that hugged her voluptuous body a bit too tightly. “There is some of my bouquet. “ That’s how Paula always referred to the members of her department because each of them was unique and made up a beautiful whole.  “Merry Christmas.” She gave Avery, Sean, and Karen a warm hug. “It’s nice to see you again, Karen. I don’t know why more people don’t bring their other halves.”  Then, with a forced smile, she gave Bernie a perfunctory hug. “Bernie, I didn’t expect you here.”

Avery put her weight on one foot and then the other. That’s a weird thing to say.  Paula had invited Bernie, hadn’t she?

Paula watched Bernie’s smile fall and touched Avery’s arm. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”

Avery clenched her teeth and looked directly at Paula. I think I’m going to be reprimanded, but for the life of me, I don’t know why.

“Avery, did you come with Bernie?”


“Well, she’s not on the guest list.”

Avery’s jaw hurt as she watched Bernie giving them a furtive glance before walking towards the horderves table. “Really? I didn’t know that.” She didn’t want to confront her boss, but she felt she had to in defense of her girlfriend. “Why wasn’t Bernie invited?”

“That’s my business, not yours. All I can tell you is she needs to leave.”

Do I tell Paula that Bernie’s my date? Would that make a difference? “But she drove me here. Can’t you just let her stay?”

“Avery, I think very carefully about my guest list, and I don’t make exceptions. You’ll have to find another ride home. Either you tell her to leave, or I will,” Paula said and stomped away.

Avery hurried to the bathroom. She leaned against the sink as if it were holding her up.  She stared at tears that brimmed in her dark brown eyes. Things are going so well between Bernie and me.  Although I don’t usually buy into that kind of stuff, I really do think she’s my soul mate. I don’t want to jeopardize that. If I tell Paula that Bernie’s my date, she can’t make her leave, can she? She said we could bring someone if we chose.  Avery dabbed at her eyes and  wiped away the smudged mascara from underneath them, touched up her peach-colored blush, and ran a comb through her long blonde hair. That would be the solution, but Bernie’s right about keeping quiet about our relationship for now.

 Avery recalled Bernie’s reasoning and had to agree with her. “Even though we’ve been dating for two months, I don’t think we should say anything, at least not until we’re tenured.”

“Do you think Paula or any of the administration are homophobic?” Avery had said.

Bernie shook her head. “Probably not. Supposedly, the College embraces diversity, but the higher ups may not like two people in the same department having a relationship.

 Avery cradled her forehead in her hands. What do I do? I can’t just tell Bernie she wasn’t invited and get another ride home. That would hurt her feelings and would be callous of me. I could tell her neither of us were invited, and we could both leave, but lying is no way to sustain a relationship. Maybe I just need to tell her the truth and leave the party with her.

Avery reluctantly opened the bathroom door and searched for Crystal. My office mate will tell me what I should do since she’d worked under Paula since she had become Chair and with her as a colleague years before. She spotted her office mate looking stunning in her emerald, green knee length silk dress that hugged her curves beautifully.  Avery greeted Crystal who was conversing with their colleagues Peter and Gwen. “Hey guys, you all look quite fabulous this evening. Happy holidays.”

“As do you in your slinky red dress,” Gwen said.

“Not every woman can pull off sleeveless as well as you, Avery,” Crystal said.

“Ditto,” Peter said.

“Thanks, you’re all too kind,” Avery said. “Um, I’m in a bit of a dilemma. Maybe you guys can give me some advice.”

Peter took a long sip of his beer and the foam stuck to his greying  mustache. “What’s up?”

Crystal glanced around to make sure Bernie wasn’t in earshot. “I came here with Bernie, but Paula just told me she wasn’t invited, that I should make her leave.”

Crystal stepped back. “Wow, I wonder why Bernie wasn’t invited.”

Peter took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “Maybe she was angry because Bernie didn’t have much to say at the last college-wide assessment meeting.”

“I don’t know. Bernie told me Paula’s been acting weird with her for a while now.  Anyway, I told Paula that Bernie drove me here. Still, she wouldn’t budge. She was adamant that I make her go.”

“I can give you a ride home,” if that’s what you’re worried about,” Crystal said.

“That’s not the problem. I don’t want to hurt Bernie’s feelings.”

“I don’t blame you. She’s always so pleasant. It really sucks big time that she wasn’t invited.”

“What can I do?” said Avery.

Crystal furrowed her brow. “You’re not going to convince her otherwise. You know how headstrong she is.”

“I suppose we should both just leave together, but will Paula be angry with me?”

“Ooh, I wouldn’t do that, Avery,” Peter said. She considers it a great privilege to be invited to her party. It would be a slap in her face if you left too.”

“You’ve got that right, Peter. No Avery, Paula will make your life miserable during the first few weeks of the spring semester,” Crystal said.

“Really? What would she do?” Avery said.

“You know how she always supports us when a student complains about any of us?” Avery nodded. “Well, she won’t if she’s angry at you. She might even write you up. I’ve experienced that. You don’t want blemishes in your file, especially while you’re not tenured.”

 She could also give you extra busy work such as checking prerequisites for all the adjuncts,” Peter said. “She did that to me once when I fell out of favor.”

“No doubt she will continue to give you tasks while you’re trying to prepare for your own classes,” Gwen said. “That happened to me two semesters ago when I was out sick four Mondays in a three-month period. It was just a coincidence that my then horrendous migraines kicked in on a lot of Mondays that semester.

“Do you still get them a lot?” said Avery.

“Not really.  I got the insurance company to approve a trial drug. It’s worked wonders. That and giving up chocolate which was  difficult but better than the pain of migraines and the passive aggressive fury of Paula.”

Crystal pushed a dark spiral off her forehead. “Yes, she’ll give you the cold shoulder for who knows how long…”

“If you leave now, she may never invite you to her party again,” Peter said.

Avery clenched her jaw and felt her neck tighten. “I guess I’ll just have to suffer the consequences. I’m not making Bernie leave by herself.”

“I wouldn’t either,” Gwen said. “She’s such a sweetheart.”

Peter nods. “Yes she is.  I can’t’ imagine what she would have done to piss off our fearless leader.”

“We all know it could be something very minor, something nobody else would notice, but it’s a big deal for Paula,” Crystal said.

Avery pulled her shoulders back and moved away from her colleagues as she said, “I guess I’d better go find Bernie” and strode towards the living room where Bernie was in a deep conversation with Tyrone, another of her colleagues.

Bernie looked down at Avery. “There you are. Tyrone and I were just discussing the plight of farmers in this state.”

“Ah, interesting. Hi Tyrone. You’re looking handsome tonight.”

“Like I don’t always?” Tyrone grinned and bent down to give Avery a hug. “I have to say, all that working out hasn’t gone to waste on you either, my friend.”

“Thanks. Tyrone, will you please excuse us for a moment? I need to tell Bernie something.”

“Something juicy, I hope,” Tyrone said holding up his champagne glass. “I’m going for a refill. Do either of you need one?”

“I would if you don’t mind,” Bernie said. “I’m the designated driver, but we still have a few hours to go before I have to drive.”

No we don’t. Avery gazed at Bernie, so sophisticated and elegant in the three-piece white chiffon pantsuit she purchased especially for this party. “Bernie, only someone 5’9 and slender like you could look so flowy and beautiful in that outfit.  I love all the scoops-- the scoop neckline, the scoop back. You look like a goddess.”

Bernie bit her lower lip and stared at Avery. “You look like you’re about to cry. What’s going on?”

December 30, 2022 22:15

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Pat Gordon
23:09 Jan 05, 2023

I spent quite a few years working in a university setting, and could easily relate to the staff/departmental dynamics that you wove into the story. I also like the title. However, while I do like endings that aren't always clear cut, like Delbert, I would've liked a little more of the story, or perhaps more of a confrontation between either Avery and Bernie, or Avery and Paula, before it ended.


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Delbert Griffith
14:50 Dec 31, 2022

I really like this story because the office politics and the bipolar control-freak boss rings so true. The only thing I would have liked more was some sort of resolution to this story. Otherwise, it was a great tale, and maybe a good thing that readers get to ponder what they would do. Well done, Kimberly.


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