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Fiction Friendship Contemporary

Melissa has been my office mate at Monroe County Community College for the past five years. We are each other’s confidants and supporters. We also have the same silly senses of humor. More than once, raucous laughter has escaped from our office and has been heard at the other end of the corridor. We hit it off right from the get-go. We quickly discovered that not only do we both love hiking, biking, and practicing yoga, reading historical fiction and mystery novels, and watching Game of Thrones, but we share similar views about life. We love teaching and helping to make a difference in young people’s lives. I also assumed that we lived by the same spiritual principles as “Do no harm” and “Do onto others as you’d have them do on to you,” but last Friday Melissa did something that made me question that assumption.

We were finally getting a chance to chill at our desks and enjoy the coveted lattes from Cool Beans, the café down the street from the college. We had just finished attending our Friday bi-monthly department meeting. Before that, I had gone to an interminable English curriculum redesign meeting, and Melissa had gone to an Achieving the Dream meeting which was equally long.  We both teach 15 credit hours jammed into a Monday through Thursday schedule, so Fridays are dedicated to meetings and paper grading. The bonus of Friday afternoons, though, is we usually have a chance to catch up with each other and share a few laughs. The usually bubbly Melissa didn’t seem herself last Friday though.

“Is something wrong, Melissa? I feel like I’ve been doing all the talking?” I said.

Melissa fidgeted with her stapler and looked at it like it contained all the answers to life’s mysteries. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about, but I don’t know how.”

“Come on, girlfriend, you’re talking to me. You know we’re like each other’s therapists. Just spill.”

“Jill, this is something serious. When I tell you, you’ll be really angry.”

I stood up and shut our office door. I must admit that I was nervous. I wondered what could she have done that would make me that mad at her? Did she sleep with my husband? Definitely not. Steal money from my wallet? No way. Talk behind my back? No, I presumed she detested back-stabbing as much as I did.

“You know how a few weeks ago Gail and I interviewed for an assistant English professor position at UCSB Santa Barbara?”

“Yes. I was excited for you and wanted you to get the position, but I was also feeling sorry for myself because I’d miss you so much if you moved to California. Truth be told, I’d miss Gail too if she was the one who got the job. She’s very private but sweet and a hard worker. And when you get her going, she can be super funny. Of course, the students love you both.”

Melissa squirmed in her chair. “It would have been an awesome opportunity for either of us but, as you know, neither of us got the job.”

“Right. I felt bad about that. I know you were both looking forward to a new opportunity.”

Melissa took a deep breath and closed her eyes for a moment. When she reopened them, her eyes were brimming with tears. “You also remember that we both asked you for a reference?”

“Yes, I do.”

 “A couple weeks ago, I was in our office by myself, and your desk phone rang. I happened to be on my feet, so I glanced at the caller ID. I don’t even know why I did that, Jill. Curiosity, I suppose.”

“OK,” I said tentatively.

“It was UCSB, so I picked up your phone. Once again, I don’t know what possessed me to do that, but I did. I was going to tell the caller that you weren’t in your office at that moment, but I would give you the message. Before I could say anything, though, the caller identified herself as Dr. Phelps, the Dean of Instruction from UCSB. She said she was calling about a reference for Gail Childs. Something came over me at that moment, and I pretended I was you.”

I covered my face with my hands. “You did what?”

“Dr. Phelps said that Gail Childs had given your name as a reference, and she had a few questions about her as a teacher and colleague. Suddenly, I wanted that position more than anything. The thought of Gail getting it instead of me not only would have been a huge disappointment but also a real stab to my ego. So, I posed as you and told the Dean that Gail was an excellent instructor and students loved her. “Melissa looked down at her stapler again.  Then, after a long pause, her eyes met mine, and she muttered, “But I also said she wasn’t always a team player and sometimes had a bad attitude.”

“Oh my God, you know that’s not true. If this gets back to Gail, she’ll think I gave her the awful reference. Why would you say such a thing?”

“I told you. I really wanted that position.”

“You probably cost Gail that position.”

Melissa wiped her eyes and blew her nose. “I really don’t think either of us would have gotten it. Somebody else probably had an in. You know how things work in academia.”

“I do, but maybe they were seriously considering Gail.”

Melissa looked at me as if I’d punched her. “They never called you about me?”

I shook my head. “Poor Gail,” I murmured.

 “I feel so bad, but what can I do about it now? What’s done is done. They’ve surely chosen their candidate by now.”

“You have to make this right immediately.” I realized I was almost shouting, so I toned it down. “Otherwise, Gail will have a serious blemish on her character and work record for something that’s false. She’s an asset to our English Department, and would be to UCSB’s as well, and you know it.”

“So what, you’re in her court instead of mine, now?”

I couldn’t hide my annoyance. “It’s not about being in anyone’s court, Melissa. I want the best for both of you, but what you did wasn’t what’s best for Gail.”

“I know, but I can’t just call Dr. Phelps and confess. Then, I would be the one with the blemish on my record.”

You made your bed; now lie in it. I didn’t mean to have any ill feelings towards Melissa. Not only was she my office mate, but she truly was my BFF. Still, I knew if I didn’t insist that she right her wrong, then I was as guilty as she was. My office mate had to understand the seriousness of her actions. We all tell a white lie occasionally, I suppose, but to deliberately sabotage someone is unacceptable. Things had to be rectified at once.

Melissa’s eyes brightened unexpectedly. “I have an idea. You could call Dr. Phelps and tell her that a colleague confessed to impersonating you and giving Gail Childs a negative reference.” She added quickly,” Make sure you say that you preferred not to divulge the person’s name though.”

I took a sip of my latte and pondered this idea. Why was she pulling me into her treachery? I had nothing to do with it. Yet, knew if I made that call, Gail’s reputation would be restored, but I would also be giving Melissa an easy out. She still wouldn’t be accountable for what she did. “I don’t think I can do that.”

Melissa’s eyes widened and her mouth hung open. “Are you serious?”

“I am. I’m really pissed that you brought me into this mess. Besides, you know I hate lying. If I made the call, then I would be the liar, and you’d get off Scott free.

“Come on, Jill. You know I’d do anything for you. I have. Remember how I helped you out when we were working on that Middle States document, and you were out for a few days with the flu? I finished the report for you. And how about the times when you were running late for class? I went to your classroom to let your students know. Oh, and…”

“Yes, you’ve helped me out numerous times, and I appreciate it, but I’ve done the same for you. Having each other’s backs is what we do for each other, but this is a whole different animal, Melissa. I don’t want to get involved in this mess you’ve made.”

Melissa looked at me and knit her eyebrows together. With a noticeable edge in her voice, she said, “So, what do you propose I do Ms. Holier that Thou?”

“You need to call Dr. Phelps. Say anything you want, but you must clear Gail’s name.”

“You won’t tell Gail, will you?” said Melissa, her voice rising.

“I won’t if you make the call.”

“Now you’re blackmailing me, Jill?”

“Don’t put this back on me, Melissa. I didn’t impersonate someone to give a colleague a bad reference.” I put my coffee cup in the trash more forcefully than necessary, turned off my computer, and stood up,” I’m cutting out early today.”

“You’re mad at me, aren’t you?”

“It’s not about me being angry; it’s about doing what’s right. By the way, it’s only 12:30 on the west coast. For both of our benefit, and Gail’s, please call Dr. Phelps before you leave.”

I heard Melissa mutter “bitch” under her breath before she shakily told me to have a good weekend. “Thanks,” I said and shut our office door.

Melissa was out sick on Monday and Tuesday, so I don’t know if she called Dr. Phelps to confess. I suppose I’ll find out today when she returns from class. If she didn’t, though, would it be so bad if I made the call and bailed Melissa out? After all, isn’t the most important issue here restoring Gail’s reputation? Does it really matter which one of us calls Dr. Phelps? It really should have been Melissa, but I don’t know if she had the ovaries to have done it. One thing I know for sure, though, is that it will take me a long time to come to terms with what Melissa did.

October 07, 2022 20:21

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