The first week of June brought performance reviews, something she had been putting off, as she was not impressed by the work of the people reporting to her. She scheduled them all on a single day, and by late afternoon she was having trouble keeping all the names straight.
When the last meeting of the day started, she didn’t even look up from her desk. Just focused on the page of mediocrity in front of her.
“Mage?” a middle-aged man said.
But it wasn’t just any middle-aged man. She looked up to see Tommy, dressed for a golf course that he’d never set foot on.
“What? Well, this is a surprise! What are you doing here?”
He was sitting across from her and wore a silent burden.
“I’ve been trying to schedule some time with you. We barely see you anymore.”
“Well, I’ve had a lot going on!”
“Ya… Seems like you’ve been working yourself to…”
She caught a hint of judgment, and it stung. He was never good at confrontation, and she was a little frustrated that she felt obligated to help him in this moment.
“Well… when was the last time you were home?”
Not exactly a hard-hitting question. “I spend plenty of time at home. Do most of my work from there.”
“That’s not what I meant. When was the last time you took the weekend off?”
She couldn’t look him in the eye, but refused to flinch, so she looked at the wall behind him.
He continued, “Or a day off, or a break for that matter?”
“That’s enough,” she said.
It appeared that over the last year Tommy had gained something of a backbone. And Mage did not like it. People shouldn’t change. If Tommy was a completely different person, then whose job had she saved? And what about the rest of her work family? Had they changed too?
“We’re worried about you, Mage. Is there something… you know, troubling you?” His eyes were focused on his hands, which were folded in his lap.
Mage made the mental note that he wasn’t completely fearless.
“You should worry about yourself.” That came out stronger than she’d intended, but she wasn’t going to take it back.
“I’ve called and texted for months, and you haven’t responded. Hell, I had to convince someone to give up their performance review so I could get a word with you.”
Mage looked down at the checklist she had prepared for that review and shook her head. She mumbled, “Not like they were getting a good one anyway.”
“That’s what they said. You used to pull with us, not push against us.”
“Pulled?… With you? You don’t get it, do you? I pulled for you during the merger. You have a job because of me.”
He stood up and walked toward the door of her office, shaking his head.
“Do you know they were going to lay off more people than they did? Think it’s just a coincidence that my friends were spared?”
What bothered her the most in this moment was that her words had no effect on him. He wasn’t tense, he walked without any urgency, and his hand rested patiently on the door.
“You have no idea what I did for you!” She raised her voice.
“I know you did something,” he said with a quiet confidence. “I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t healthy.”
She began shaking her head.
“I barely recognize you. Whatever it is you are doing, you need to quit it, and do it cold turkey.”
But this wasn’t an addiction. There was nothing to quit. The rapidness of the changes in her appearance couldn’t have been natural, and therefore must be supernatural. And the only supernatural thing she had been involved with was the dark spell she’d cast. Which was the logic she used to conclude that these physical changes were the price she had to pay for the spell.
Comparatively, it was a small cost. And she’d do it again. But as she looked at Tommy, who was patiently waiting for some sort of response from her, she wouldn’t have used the spell to help him or their friends. No, just for herself. For the promotion.
Tommy added, “You’re not even going to deny it?” This time it was him prompting her to finish the conversation.
She replied in a softer tone, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course.” He opened the door. After stepping out, he paused before shutting it.
Mage shuffled some papers, waiting for him to close the door, but he just stood there.
“What?” she asked.
“I thought I should tell you that I saw her.”
Mage stopped shuffling the papers and locked her panic-filled eyes with Tommy’s. She was trying to ask, “When?” but her mouth wouldn’t open.
Instead, Tommy got in the last words. “She’s not you, no matter how many people she has fooled.”
And he closed the door.