Fiction Black Contemporary

This story contains sensitive content

CW: ableism, abuse

The Contest

“What do you think the new director will do first?” Lisandra asked, as she stowed her purse in her locker in the spa’s breakroom.

“As long as he doesn’t change the add-on menu, right?” Chevelle said, next to her.

“He can’t touch it!”

“You’re the add-on queen, girl.”

Just as Lisandra flung her hair with pride at her earned title, a new voice began talking.

“Everything is changing,” Mark announced as he entered the breakroom on his first day as spa director. He was the only one in the room in a suit jacket. “For the better, of course. I’m simplifying the menu so our clients can understand it. A Swedish massage is a Swedish massage, and deep tissue is deep tissue.”

“That sounds good,” Lisandra said, her green eyes opening wider and a grin extending across her face. She made a mental note that Mark spoke with a reassuring undertone of confidence, just like the executives had promised when they’d informed the team that a candidate accepted the job offer.

The massage team murmured and nodded their heads, and a sense of hope billowed through the air.

“What about prices?” Edita’s voice rose above everyone else’s. She leaned back and crossed her arms, cocking her eyebrows at Mark. The team turned to him, the hope faltering.

Lisandra blanched at Edita’s brazenness, but the question was valid.

“Our prices will go up,” Mark said without hesitating, and the skittering hope regained steam.

Except for Lisandra. Her breath caught as if in a spiderweb. They were in the thick of off-season, and clients weren’t exactly beating down the doors. Some team members had already resorted to bribing the reservation agents for more and better appointments.

“When will the prices go up?” Lisandra asked, testing to see if the new director had a feel for Florida’s seasonality. When the chills of winter started nipping at northerners’ noses, tourists would flock to Florida and he could get away with charging whatever he damn well pleased. But December was still three months away. Of more importance, she wondered if the other assurances the executives had given would hold water. They’d said Mark was fair and even-handed, which gave her hope that he’d rein in Edita.

“I’m launching the menu November first with the new prices.” He gathered his papers and glanced at his cell phone. “Alright, it’s time to work. Go have a brilliant day.” Mark ushered the team out the door with a wave of his hands, exposing an oversized gold watch.

Lisandra walked out behind Chevelle and Edita. Edita laughed boisterously, “Higher prices mean bigger paychecks.” She threw her hand up in the air, but when Chevelle didn’t react, she brought her hand back down, palm in Chevelle’s face. “I tried to give you a high five, but you didn’t see,” and she laughed again with acidity laced in. Edita continued through the staff-only door to the spa proper, but Chevelle held back and slumped against a wall.

“What was that?” Lisandra asked, stopping.

“Girl, that damn Edita gets on my last nerve,” Chevelle said, a scornful expression flooding her eyes and stiffening her face as she shook her head. 

Lisandra saw more pain than anything else. She’d seen it in Chevelle’s eyes before when the previous spa director had made a habit of glossing over Edita’s bad behavior. And for what? Edita handed them pastellitos, café con leche, and dirt on the whole team throughout each day. Poking fun at a coworker whose vision was diminishing made Lisandra’s skin burn ember hot. Edita’s dominant place right up management’s asses was a significant reason the previous management team had been fired. This was Mark’s first day; would he prove himself the polar opposite?

“You alright?” Lisandra asked.

“Forget it. I’m fine.”

“You need to speak up for yourself, Chevelle.”

“I do... sometimes, but …not right now, okay?”

Lisandra sighed in resignation. “Whenever you’re ready. That bitch doesn’t respond to positive reinforcement, remember?”

“I remember. I know.” 

Lisandra pursed her lips; it wasn’t her place to judge how Chevelle maintained a working relationship. 

Chevelle’s frustrated expression got wiped clean and replaced with excitement. “You know that piece of furniture we both like for the dining area?”

In addition to working together, the two shared an apartment. The vertical trajectory that real estate prices had taken forced them into a living situation that was, so far, working out really well. Their apartment was modern, airy, spacious, and in a gated community with meticulously manicured grounds – a far cry from the disheveled piece of shit two blocks from the railroad tracks that Lisandra had called home for years until getting work at this spa. 

“Yeah,” Lisandra said, as they headed through the spa toward the dispensary. “The white sideboard cabinet we can’t afford?”

“That one,” Chevelle said, as they went through the dispensary door. “I saw one almost just like it on Amazon.”

The scheduler showed their clients were checked-in. “It’s time to rock -n- roll,” Lisandra said. The therapists exited the dispensary, crossed the indoor lounge area to the waiting room, called their guests by name and went to work.

At the day’s close, Chevelle and Lisandra rode home with Rihanna’s “This is What You Came For” playing. Chevelle’s silence broke through the music.

“What’s the matter?” Lisandra paused the song.

“I’m so sick of Edita’s bullshit. What happens if I pop off on her at work? Then management thinks I’m the bully.”

The impact of Chevelle’s words exploded in slow motion and shook Lisandra to the core. She couldn’t even estimate the damage coming her way, but the aftershocks rattled her bones. She let out a weary breath and kept driving. “Something has to be done. It’s total bullshit. Mark doesn’t even know yet. But…” she screwed up her face in thought. “…he has to know. I mean, Edita was a major topic of conversation when HR met with the team. Everyone had a horror story. Loud, obnoxious, rude, inappropriate, the special favors.”

Chevelle quieted, but several minutes later once they were home and changed out of uniform into regular clothing, she exploded again. “How am I supposed to maintain my composure and help my clients relax when fucking Edita won’t back down from her sarcastic comments about my vision? Even if she knows how it affects me, the bitch don’t care.”

“You have to talk to Mark.”

“I have to fuck that bitch up, that’s what.” Chevelle threw punches in the air.

Lisandra laughed. She’d had endless fantasies about Edita’s ejection from her life, ranging from one overwhelming force of violence to another. Idle fantasies, but they stabilized her moods and cracked her up. “Rum and Coke?”

“With a twist of lemon, please.”

“You got it.” Lisandra mixed their cocktails, looking at the blank length of wall in their dining area and imagining the sideboard filling in the space. They went out to sit on the patio, letting Bacardi smooth out the rough edges of their moods.

The next day, Lisandra drove herself to work since Chevelle had off. She spent the first couple hours without bookings, so she ruminated in her treatment room over the problems Edita posed.

What started as a transparent thought to send Mark an email grew more opaque and solid with outrage. She pulled out her cell phone and began collecting her thoughts. Before she knew it, a cogent message glowed black on white. Satisfied that her words were professional and still damning, she hit send.  

Before the day ended, Lisandra checked the scheduler into the future. A block under Chevelle and Edita’s names was labeled “management” for the day after next. Lisandra held her breath. She felt as if she’d lit a fuse and the inevitability of the coming destruction had her fingerprints all over it. But that’s what she’d asked for.

That evening when Lisandra returned home, she told Chevelle about the email and the upcoming meeting.

“Why couldn’t you keep your mouth shut?” Chevelle demanded and reached in the cupboard for a glass. She filled it with ice, Bacardi, Coke and lemon juice.

“How was I supposed to stay quiet any longer? Edita has been bullying the whole team for over two years! But look at the situation I’m seeing.”

“Why is it about you?”

“Chevelle, we’ve gone from coworkers to friends, and now we’re roommates. We have a shit ton riding on each other. As a coworker, I see Edita destabilizing the cohesiveness of the team. I see her attacking you. As your friend, it hurts me to see, especially since I know damn well that losing your eyesight also affects you on an emotional level. As roommates, we have financial responsibilities to each other. If Edita backs you into a fucking corner and you do have some sort of inappropriate emotional reaction at work that jeopardizes your job, then what? Shit, woman! Neither of us can cover the rent here alone.”

Chevelle’s eyes flashed from fury to exhaustion to acceptance. She looked off to some faraway distance beyond the walls and her shoulders squared and fell. She set her jaw, trembling, and took a long gulp of her drink.

“That bitch is threatening way too much. So yeah, I spoke up on your behalf, but there’s a little self-preservation involved as well.” Lisandra gestured with her glass before taking a drink. “Someone has to stop her, and if she’s a bulldozer, I had to appeal to bigger machinery, that’s all. That’s Mark.”

“I just wish my name wasn’t in your email.”

“Did I have a choice? Me going to him is nothing but hearsay. I’m a witness, at best, but you’re the direct target of her behavior. You have to stand up for yourself. Bitch, you’re legally blind! You’re protected by the ADA.”

“They’re not going to want any trouble with the Fed po-po,” Chevelle said. “What if they brush it under the rug?”

“Honestly, I don’t think they can afford to, but I don’t think they want to, either. Edita’s name has come up as trouble too many times.”

“I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” Chevelle said, softly.

“You will be.” Lisandra sipped her drink and moved to sit on the living room sofa. “There’s more though.”

“What the hell?” Chevelle took the chaise section and wrapped up in her blanket.

“It’s good. Mark told me he ran reports and saw that I sell the most add-ons. He wants to run a contest, but I offered to help train the team so the game is fair. If I don’t, who else would stand a chance?”

“Absolutely nobody. What’s the prize?”

“A two-hundred and fifty dollar gift card to Amazon.” She gave Chevelle a sly grin.

“When does the contest start?”

“He’ll announce it tomorrow in pre-shift. I’ll do my little training thing on my method and everyone will have a week to practice. The contest starts October first.”


Two days later, Chevelle entered Mark’s office with Edita. Lisandra went about her service appointments with a knot in her belly. A half hour later, Edita came out alone. During lunch, Lisandra and Chevelle sat together with their trays of food in the cafeteria. 


“Edita tried to hug up on me and say that’s just how we talk to each other: Bitch this, bitch that. I made it clear that I put on a brave face, but losing my vision makes me feel some kind of way. Edita makes it harder, like it’s not already hard enough. Yes, we talk rough to each other; however, I don’t want that to make it seem like everything is okay. There were no next steps or resolution or anything, so I asked to speak to Mark one-on-one. He said it’s clear the company has a zero-tolerance policy on bullying, and if necessary, he’ll let her go.”

Edita apparently took the lesson to heart for a few days, and stayed under everyone’s radar. Once Mark announced the contest, she was the only team member to refuse Lisandra’s teaching.

Three weeks into the contest, Lisandra was standing in the back-of-house hallway, looking at the leaderboard with everyone’s photo pinned to their position in the contest. Edita and Chevelle were neck-and-neck for the lead. Lisandra wanted to win, but she’d trained the team of twenty therapists well enough that they posed serious competition to her. She had to push herself harder to get that gift card.

The team is on fire, thought Lisandra. More revenue to the spa and more money in everyone’s pockets. But she grew suspicious. If Edita refused to learn from me, and I’m the best, I wonder how she’s doing it.

Later that day, Lisandra and Edita were on their way to the waiting area to pick up their clients for a couple’s massage. 

“You do the talking,” Edita said.

Normally, Lisandra would have been happy to do the consultation because she made it concise but still thorough. “No, you do the talking,” she responded with a smirk and a no bullshit expression.

Edita looked both ways and bared her teeth for a moment. She was uncomfortable. Good. They escorted the clients to the couple’s suite and Edita asked them about their medical histories, choice of aromatherapy, and where they wanted special focus.

The clients answered. Lisandra was about to tell them where to leave their robes and how to position themselves on the massage tables when Edita added, “We can use hot stones or CBD oil in your massage if you want.”

The clients’ faces lit up and they nodded enthusiastically. Lisandra waited for Edita to tell them the add-ons cost more, but she never made the disclosure. The therapists stepped outside the room and waited a minute before knocking to re-enter.

Once the service was complete and the room cleaned and ready for the next clients, Lisandra went to Mark’s office.

“Do you have a minute?” she asked at the threshold.

“Is it important? I don’t have much time until my next meeting.”

“Someone is cheating in the contest.”

Mark froze and looked at Lisandra firmly. “That’s important. Come in.”

Lisandra stepped inside the small office. Since Mark remained standing at his computer, she didn’t sit down. “It’s reasonable to disclose the price of the add-ons to the clients up front, yes?”

“Of course,” Mark agreed. “Who is it?”

“I just finished a couples with Edita. She added two upgrades without letting the clients know about the extra charge. If they get to the front desk and don’t want to pay, what’s going to happen?”

“We can’t force them to pay if the therapist doesn’t make it clear,” Mark said, briefly looking to the ceiling. “That’s a problem.”

“I agree.”

“Now, as for you, I understand a lot of the paraffin and foot scrub add-ons you’re calling in are actually back exfoliations. Is that true?” Mark put his fingertips together in the classic steeple position and raised his eyebrows.

She shrugged. “The clients love it, and they come back for full body polish treatments. I tell them the extra cost and they pay, no problem. It’s not outside the scope of my license.”

“It’s not on my menu, Lisandra.”

She studied him for a few seconds. He wouldn’t budge. “Yes, sir.” She tucked her tail between her legs and left Mark’s office with the door open.

On Halloween, the breakroom was decorated with autumn décor and fake spiderwebs. The contest leaderboard had been updated with Edita in first place, Lisandra in second and Chevelle in third. Mark took the center of the room during pre-shift, dressed in his traditional suit without a tie.

Edita sat with her eyes glued on her cell phone screen, a smug smile on her mouth.

“Good morning, team,” Mark said with a broad smile and his eyes twinkling. “You all did amazing with the contest. For the month, you generated over seven-thousand dollars in revenue, just on upgrades, so you blew me away to be honest. I didn’t expect such amazing performance, but perhaps I should have.”

A couple of the therapists raised their hands in praise. “Thank you, Lisandra, for showing us how.”

“You’re very welcome,” she replied, her face flushing warm.

Edita looked across the round table at Lisandra, mouthing, “I won.”

Lisandra smirked and shrugged her shoulders slowly.

“Our winner of the Amazon gift card is… drum roll please,” Mark continued, and some of the therapists beat their hands on the tables. “Chevelle!”

All eyes opened wide, including Lisandra’s. Edita had already risen from her seat, but once it registered whose name Mark had said, her face turned red and she sat back down.

“Chevelle!” Lisandra cried. “Congratulations, girl!” She turned to Mark. “I don’t understand.”

“Edita disqualified herself by not telling guests the upgrades are an extra charge. This victimizes the clients because they’re paying something they hadn’t agreed to, which violates their right to refuse. Too many complained at check-out, costing the spa revenue. I’m sorry to say, you’re disqualified because most of your add-ons aren’t officially on our menu. Chevelle is our winner.”

Lisandra’s mouth fell open as she processed what he said. As Mark handed Chevelle the prized gift card, she smiled. Despite her disappointment, she couldn’t stay angry. A win for Chevelle meant a win for her household and herself as a competent trainer.

“That’s not fair!” shouted Edita. “I lost to that blind bitch?” A second later, she covered her face with her hands and bowed her head.

“Edita,” Mark said, “my office. Now. Everyone else, have a brilliant day.” With that, he strode out of the breakroom. By the end of the day after rumors nearly burned the paint off the walls, the therapists gathered around the scheduler in the dispensary. They clicked to view the upcoming days; Edita’s name disappeared off the calendar.

“Hey, Roomie,” Chevelle said, waving the gift card. “What color should we get that sideboard cabinet in?”

November 28, 2022 02:29

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Wendy Kaminski
02:50 Nov 28, 2022

Karmic justice, LOVE IT! :) (Well, not for the main character, but you definitely made me wanna see Edita go down! ;)


03:16 Nov 28, 2022

YESSSSS!!! Edita had to get what was coming to her! I'm so glad you liked it. Happy Holidays, Mackenzie


Wendy Kaminski
03:17 Nov 28, 2022

You, too! :)


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