This one is especially fun for me to share, because the prompt came from a weekly flash fiction writing contest on The One-Minute Writer and I won! This was the prompt on the site:
You sit down in your plastic chair at the table, ready for another boring staff meeting. Your boss stands up and begins to talk. Suddenly you hear a swell of background noise. You realize you can hear everyone’s thoughts during the meeting! You’re not bored anymore!
What is everyone thinking about, and where does this new knowledge lead you?
What had just happened here??
When I got to the meeting 15 minutes ago, I fully expected Will to drone on—and on—and on—and made sure I brought a blank notebook. Will thinks that I take notes during these idiotic weekly staff meetings, and I do write something down. Occasionally. But the notebook is for the special version of Hangman that Tony and I have worked out just for the meetings. The games can get pretty intense sometimes, and I’m not going to lie: some Sundays I’ve spent from breakfast until dinner coming up with some tough ones so I can actually win a few.
I stole a few from the New York Times crossword puzzle yesterday and came to the office all ready to stick it to Tony during the meeting. We had nothing else to do while Will used his hour-long soapbox to boost his ego. Oh, Will’s not a slave driver or anything. In fact, he’s exactly the opposite. He questions himself so much that he can’t imagine anyone else having the moxie to do their jobs. So these meetings are more about him reminding himself that he really is the boss and reminding us that even the most watery-kneed schmuck can run an office because he’s hired brilliant people.
We’re brilliant. And kind. At least, that’s what I thought before this meeting.
We had all taken our usual places at the table in the conference room, but Tony had gotten caught up with some report-type thing and said he’d just ghost in when he was done. So I had to put off Hangman and just doodle instead. And that’s when I heard it.
When Will started talking I was working on this abstract horse—or a giraffe, I couldn’t tell, really—and then I heard Katie say, as clear as a bell, “Oh my god, will someone please shoot me now?! I start my period last night, and now I’ve got to listen to Will make cardboard sound fascinating??”
I nearly got whiplash from how fast my head snapped up to stare at her. I mean, she’d said it so loud. But when I looked at her across the table, she was doodling too. And she didn’t have the “I-just-said-something-embarrassing-and-didn’t-think-about-it-because-of-cramps” look. She just looked at her doodling and blew her bangs out of her eyes. But I know Katie’s voice; once you learn to identify a voice from inside a bathroom stall, you can identify it anywhere.
So, yeah, I heard Katie clear as a bell, but she didn’t look like she’d said anything. And then while I gawked at her, I heard Amanda who sat right next to her.
“I wonder if Will’s colorblind; he’d have to be for putting that outfit together. Either that or he got dressed in the dark this morning. Maybe, instead of using us as his audience for his therapy session, he could nominate himself for ‘What Not To Wear’ and learn something.”
But Amanda’s lips didn’t move. She just propped the side of her head in her hand and blinked a few times while she stared at her paper like she couldn’t stay awake or something.
Suddenly I started hearing…I don’t know, thoughts! I could hear what was inside of everyone’s heads. They were all thinking one version or the other of the same thing: that Will needed to get a life and a spine (and the order of that didn’t matter) and that they would do anything to get out of the meeting.
Then Tony walked in. He nodded at Will in a friendly way, murmured a quiet “Sorry for being late,” and looked at me and rolled his eyes in that fun way he has.
I’m not going to lie; I do have a thing for Tony. But just a little bit. It’s not like I’m jumping in his pants on our lunch hour or anything. Come on, I’ve got a little more discretion than that. I’d wait until at least that late-afternoon Starbucks run we make together. If Tony showed any interest, that is.
That’s kind of why is started the Hangman thing. I thought it would be fun and flirty without exactly being slutty, you know?
We haven’t done anything. Yet. Although I think we’re getting closer.
But when he walked in and started coming toward me, I heard it. Loud and clear.
“Whine-bag Will, at it again. Man, I don’t know how I’m going to get through this week with him. At least it is only one more week. Why couldn’t George put him out of his misery before today? Then I could actually run this meeting the way it should be run. One more week under Will is just one more week the department is down the toilet. I’m going to need a plunger after this.”
Tony…as the head of the department? How could he do that to Will? Yeah, Will’s kind of boring, but he’s also—well, he’s Will! He’s the nice guy. How could Tony do that to the nice guy?
Worse. I didn’t know what to do from here.
“Kate? Kate, do have something you want to say?”
I realized I was staring at Will and shut my mouth, trying to wipe the drool before it got too obvious just how long my jaw had hung open. I glanced at Tony, and he chuckled and winked at me. But all of a sudden, I didn’t want to play Hangman anymore.