It wasn’t often that Anastasia walked to work. In fact, she couldn’t recall any other time she’d stepped out on her porch, saw the sunshine, and decided to enjoy the fresh air. Twenty minutes later, she stood in front of her office, staring up at the small black birds perched at one of the windows. She needed to go inside and clock in, but she wanted to cherish every second she wasn’t at home.
As she strolled through the office’s revolving door, she pulled out her phone to see if Jenn had texted her yet. Nothing. She usually started blowing up Anastasia’s phone after fighting, but last night had been terrible. Not that terrible fights stopped Jenn before.
“Anastasia, a moment?” Anastasia glanced up at an immaculately dressed redhead, her boss Melissa, whom she hadn’t seen in the office for several weeks.
“Come with me, please.” Melissa led her through the lobby, down two halls, and into an average-sized office with a bay window. “Have a seat.”
Anastasia sat, curious. Melissa seemed a little off, but she couldn’t place what was why.
“Is something wrong, Melissa?”
“Yes, actually.” Melissa sighed. She looked exasperated. “We received a complaint that you’ve been…fraternizing in a rather inappropriate manner with one of your project’s team members.”
Anastasia stared at her boss incredulously. “I’m sorry, what? I don’t know what that could possibly be about.”
“You can’t think of any examples of inappropriate conduct?” Anastasia started replaying conversations in her mind. She’d mentioned the weather, the new bistro down the street, wine…Could that be it? Did the wine talk offend someone? I’m pretty sure David brought it up, though.
“David and I talked a bit about the types of wine we like.”
“No, it’s not that.” Melissa shook her head.
“What is it, then? I swear I didn’t intentionally do anything.”
“I can’t technically release the name of the complainant. Anastasia, we’ve worked together many years, and that’s why I have difficulty believing the complaint that’s been made against you. So I’m going to be direct: Someone called the office and made an accusation that you had intimate relations with a team member during work hours in the office.”
“What?” Anastasia stood up. “Of course not. I’m not that stupid—”
“Anastasia, please sit down.” Melissa sighed. “Now, the complaint was anonymous, and the other ‘team member’ seemed to be very uncertain about several details. She-”
“Yes. She. She claimed to be making the complaint on behalf of another team member. Now, I take sexual harassment claims very seriously. However, I—I shouldn’t tell you this. I don’t think the caller was from the company, Anastasia, although her voice sounded familiar. I think it was your roommate.”
“Jenn?” That would explain why her phone wasn’t exploding. Still, would Jenn do something so dramatic, so juvenile? “What—Why?”
“Well, the phone number of the complainant matches the number you have for her in your emergency contact file.”
Anastasia felt an incredible anger fuel her body. “What the fuck? She tried to get me fired? She actually called my workplace and tried to get me fired!”
“I understand that you’re upset, but I need you to listen to me, okay?”
Anastasia looked up at her boss, loosening her clenching fists as she saw the concern in her eyes.
“Look, HR has to address this to cover the company, but I wanted to warn you. I shouldn’t even be saying anything—this isn’t how this would typically be handled—but they’ve already started talking with your team members individually. They haven’t mentioned any names to your team, so there’s no need to panic about your reputation here. So far, nobody has mentioned any examples of inappropriate behavior, period. Now, we have plenty of information to suggest the complaint was invalid. As far as everyone else is concerned, this conversation never happened.”
“I just can’t believe she’d do something so ridiculous,” Anastasia said, her voice small.
“From everything you’ve ever told me about her, and this, I think it would be wise to find a new living situation. But that falls into your personal life, where I have no say. However, you need to take the day off today. If anyone asks, you’re welcome to say you’re working on a task for me from home today.”
“Thank you. I don’t think I could focus on work today.”
“I figured as much. And Anastasia? Seriously. Off the record, get a new roommate. ASAP.”
Anastasia numbly walked out of Melissa’s office. Her roommate tried to get her fired. As she started her walk home, she tried to remember what had started their fight the day before.
“Ana, you’ve got to do your laundry. It’s smelling up the entire apartment.”
“I don’t even have a full load of clothes. I don’t think my two pairs of pants in my hamper in my room are causing a real issue.” Anastasia sighed. Jenn was trying to pick another fight and had apparently run out of material.
Everything escalated from there. They argued about the laundry, the division of chores, their boyfriends, their living arrangement. Anastasia remembered throwing her hands up and saying she couldn’t take Jenn’s controlling behavior anymore. That’s when Jenn had looked at her and said, “You haven’t seen anything yet.”
Anastasia unlocked her apartment, closed the door, and collapsed against it. She had to make a plan. Jenn wasn’t there at that moment, but she’d stop by on her lunch hour. Anastasia called her sister and started frantically packing. Her sister said she could stay with her and drove over to help load up Anastasia’s things. She’d wanted her away from Jenn for several months now.
Anastasia double checked that her things were cleared. Her sister had gone back to her house with a van full of clothes, dishes, and toiletries. Anastasia closed her bedroom door and quickly rearranged anything that might immediately give away that she was moving out when she heard Jenn’s key turn. She leaped onto the couch, crumbled up some tissues, and covered herself with a throw.
Jenn walked in and did a double take. “Ana, why are you home? Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“I got fired,” Anastasia said, sniffling.
“What? Honey, what happened?” Jenn sat down on the couch.
“I don’t know. It was the strangest thing. Someone filed a sexual harassment claim against me, and they said the company couldn’t afford any bad press. So they fired me.”
“Oh, how terrible. Surely they know you wouldn’t do anything like that.” Jenn pushed the tissue box closer to Anastasia. Anastasia tried to inconspicuously gauge Jenn’s facial expressions. Her tone was saccharine but unsurprised.
“I’m not going to be able to afford rent. My savings are nonexistent.”
“I can help with rent. You take the time you need to recover and get back up on your feet. You can owe me.”
Anastasia was shocked. Jenn was audacious if nothing else. “No, no, that would be asking too much.”
“You can’t just leave me high and dry here without a roommate.” Jenn’s tone suddenly became less friendly.
“We pay month-to-month. We don’t have a lease.”
“That doesn’t mean I can just be without a roommate.”
“I already gave my notice the landlord. I’ve paid my half this month and all the utilities for last month.”
“And where do you think you’ll go? You’re unemployed and now homeless? Classy,” Jenn scoffed.
“There’s a few shelters in this town. I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry about me. I really must go.”
“Wait, Ana. Just hold on a second. I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I just mean that, you know, nobody means for this kind of thing to happen to anyone.”
“I think you meant to get me fired.”
The color drained from Jenn’s face. “How did you—”
“I know you filed the complaint. Now listen to me. You and I? Our friendship is over. I will be filing a restraining order as soon as I leave here. If you ever attempt to contact me, my family, or any place of employment again, I’ll make sure you regret it. I’m not afraid to be merciless with you. Not anymore.”
Jenn tried to argue. “I didn’t do anything wrong. If you weren’t such a manipulative person we wouldn’t be in this mess to begin with.”
“Save it. I don’t care. Never, and I do mean never, contact me again.” Anastasia stood up, threw the tissue box on the floor, and stormed out. She was shaking as she fumbled for her car keys. She wasn’t sure if her threats worked, but she knew Jenn well enough to assume she’d quickly find another roommate she could push around. But then, what do I know? I didn’t think she’d call my job. Anastasia shook off the tension she felt and started her car, programming her GPS to her sister’s house, feeling relieved at the prospect of change.