Drained, p.1
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       Drained, p.1
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           Melissa J. Crispin
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  Melissa J. Crispin


  Copyright ©2016 Roane Publishing

  A Roane Publishing Free Read by Melissa J. Crispin


  WARNING: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.

  This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Ella rubbed a thick, green leaf between her fingers, admiring the delicate white flower blooming on the stem. Under her care, this plant, and all the others sitting on her boss's windowsill, had escaped near death. They had benefited from their owner's week long absence just as much as she had.

  I can even handle flowers better than this idiot.

  She glared out the window, contemplating what was more insulting after thirteen years of working at the company: not getting promoted to run her department, or watering plants for the floundering moron who did. Throwing her shoulders back, she raised her chin high and marched out of Melanie's office.

  I will not let this bother me.

  I will not let this break me.

  Ella walked to the kitchen to prepare her morning coffee.

  “Happy Monday,” Abby said in her usual sing-song voice. She joined Ella at the counter to steep her tea.

  “Good morning,” Ella replied.

  Abby shot her a sidelong glance. “Is today the day?”

  Ella blew out a deep breath. “Yes. Melanie will be here any minute now.”

  Abby's lips pressed into a thin line. She glanced at the empty doorway behind them before continuing, dropping her voice to a whisper. “Everyone knows that corner office should have been yours. Don't let her get to you. Hang in there.” Abby pivoted on her high heels, clacking down the hallway before Ella could respond.

  With a steaming cup of coffee in hand, Ella snaked her way through the maze of cubicles and settled in at her own. She clicked open each unread email while struggling with one question at the forefront of her mind.

  Why am I still here?

  Except for Melanie, she enjoyed the people around her. She could be a software engineer anywhere, but the friends she had made were hard to come by in an office setting. Her fingers drummed on her mouse while she considered whether several good co-workers outweighed the bad one.

  The other major factor, of course, was the steady paycheck at a flourishing company during a recession. As a wife and mom, she accepted the need to do things that were best for those she loved, no matter how much she hated it.

  The place buzzed with activity as more people arrived. Halfway through the morning, an instant message from Melanie popped up on Ella's screen, “Please come by.” Ella slumped forward and put her face in her hands for a moment. Then, she stood tall and strode over to Melanie's office. She stopped short in the doorway and blinked twice.

  The leaves on the plant she examined a few hours ago sagged, the tips tinged brown. The white flower had fallen from the stem. It lay on the windowsill, shriveled and dry like potpourri.

  “Good morning, Ella. Is something wrong?”

  Ella dragged her gaze from the left side of the room to the right, absorbing the sad, withered scene before her. Gone were the brilliant colored flowers and the lush greenery she had revived.


  She shook her head and turned toward Melanie. “Um, no.” She clasped her hands together. “Well, maybe.”

  Melanie raised an eyebrow.

  “See, I watered your plants this morning, and they looked…different. They weren't limp.” Ella frowned.

  Melanie waved off the concern. “I'm not worried about them. They hadn’t fared much better under my care, so I wouldn't fault you for their condition.” She chuckled.

  Ella did not.

  “Anyway,” Melanie said, “I didn't want to talk about your lack of a green thumb. Several ideas came to mind while I was in the London office, and I wanted to run them by you. You may not be good with plants, but you sure know how everything works around here.”

  You're damn right I do.

  Ella sunk into the chair closest to the door. “Okay. Let's hear them.”

  For the next hour, Ella bit her tongue and plastered a fake smile onto her face. One horrid idea after another spewed out of Melanie's mouth, her eyes sparkling as she gushed on about how she would improve the department. Ella humored Melanie, agreeing with everything she said, since her opinion wouldn't change a thing.

  She would never understand why the executives hired the incompetent woman, especially when they rarely filled management positions from the outside. Melanie must have knocked her interview out of the park. Too bad she sucked at her job.

  Once Melanie dismissed her, Ella rose from her seat, her chin dipped to her chest.

  “Ella?” Melanie asked.


  “Thanks for the chat. I feel so energized now that I've shared my thoughts. I can't wait to get cracking.”

  “You're welcome.”

  Ella went back to her desk and fought the weariness that consumed her. She rubbed her eyes and prayed the rest of the day would fly by.

  * * * *

  When Ella got home from work, she heaved herself onto the couch, flicked on the TV, and crawled under a blanket. She still couldn't shake the tiredness that struck her after meeting with Melanie. Being near her boss always seemed to have that effect on her.

  And what was up with those plants…

  She heard the garage door open, followed by the slamming of car doors.

  “Mommy, we're home!” Madison called out as she flew around the corner and into the living room.

  Ella sat up. “How's my sweet girl?”

  Madison jumped into her lap, wrapping her little arms about Ella's neck.

  “Did you have fun at your soccer game?”

  “Yes.” She flashed a crooked smile, showing off the gap where her two lower front teeth were missing. “I scored a goal again.”

  The corners of Ella's mouth turned up as she pulled her daughter in for a hug. “Way to go. I'm so proud of you. Now go get washed up for dinner.” She stood and set Madison on her feet.

  Her husband Len came in and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. A knot formed in her stomach as his emerald eyes studied her. They had been through this already.

  “How was your day?” she asked.

  He shook his head. “I should be asking you the same. I don't like what that place does to you. You should find a new job.”

  Ella laced her fingers together and stared down at them. “With the economy being so bad, I don't feel comfortable taking that kind of risk. I've been through rough times at my office before and survived. They'll eventually realize Melanie doesn't have a clue. If I wait it out, I could potentially get my shot at her position after all.”

  Len tilted her face up with his finger. “It's different this time. For the last six months, you've come home and balled yourself up on the couch, not wanting to do anything. Even Maddie is starting to notice, and she's five years old. I hate seeing you this way.”

  Len wrapped his arms around her. The warmth of his comforting embrace soothed her as she listened to his steady heartbeat.

  Maybe it's time to let go...

  * * * *

  For the remainder of the evening, Ella's thoughts wandered back to Melanie's plants. She sat with Len in front of the television in a daze, not paying attention to the show that was on.

  “What’s wrong?” he asked.

This might sound crazy, but the weirdest thing happened today. I went to work early to water Melanie's plants one last time before she returned from her trip, and they were fine, green and healthy. She called me into her office later in the morning and they were nearly dead. Such a dramatic change within a few hours doesn't even seem possible. I can't make sense of it.”

  “What do you mean?” He turned toward her, a confused expression on his face.

  “They looked drained, like I feel when I'm around her.”

  “That's strange, but I'm sure there's a logical explanation for it.” He covered her hand with his and went back to watching the show.

  She sighed. “You're probably right. I just wish I knew what it was.”

  * * * *

  Ella stopped at the florist on her way to work. She bought a flourishing plant dotted with pink flowers that stood about two feet tall, making it large enough to suit her purposes without raising suspicion.

  She set the test subject on her desk and went about her morning like she would on any other day. After lunch, she carried it over to Melanie's office. She peered in through the closed glass door and caught a glimpse of Melanie reading through a mountain of paperwork. She knocked, and Melanie waved her in.

  “Hi,” Ella said. “I felt bad about what happened to your plants, so I wanted to bring you this.”

  “How sweet of you. Thank you,” Melanie said.

  “I'm going to set it down right over here.” Ella placed the plant on the windowsill in a spot that would be visible from the hallway. The bright flowers and lush, green leaves stood out from the others which remained in the same sorry condition as the previous day. “Talk to you later.”

  “Okay. Thanks again.”

  Ella dialed Len's number when she got back to her desk.

  “Hey Len, I'm going to be home late tonight. I have something I need to do.”

  * * * *

  By six o'clock, the entire floor was quiet. Ella sent a document to the printer, giving her the opportunity to cruise past Melanie's office. She picked up the printout, taking slow, deliberate steps back from where she came. She pretended to read as she walked, but her eyes darted over to inspect the plant she’d deposited earlier.

  It was very much alive and well.

  Ella barked out a laugh.

  Maybe I am going crazy. What did I think I was going to happen?

  “Ella, is that you?”

  Ella's heart jumped into her throat.

  “Yes, it's me.” She turned about.

  Melanie leaned against the doorway of her office, her arms folded. “I'm surprised you're still here. I thought everyone was gone.” She glanced around. “What's so funny?”

  “Oh. I was reviewing a report I typed up for the Bradley project. I noticed an embarrassing typo that isn't appropriate for the workplace.” She swallowed, clutching the paper to her chest.

  “Okay, well, make sure you fix the error. The last thing you want is to make anyone uncomfortable. Just on my way out. Try not to work too hard.”

  “Not like it would get me anywhere,” Ella muttered under her breath.

  “What was that?” Melanie asked.

  “Good night.”

  Ella returned to her desk again and noted when Melanie signed off of instant messenger. She looped around the floor and encountered a sea of empty chairs. Satisfied she was alone, she revisited Melanie's office to inspect the gift she gave to her boss. She placed a leaf between her fingers and pressed down on the firm, moist soil. Ella rubbed the back of her neck and considered her elaborate scheme to look at a plant, of all things.

  Len's right. I need a new job.

  * * * *

  The next day, Ella grabbed a cup of coffee from the kitchen and went to her desk to check her email. The first one was from Melanie with the subject, “Urgent.” When she clicked it open, it contained one short sentence. “Come see me when you get here.”

  A weight settled in the pit of her stomach. She had spoken to Melanie at the end of the day yesterday. What could have possibly come up since then? She smacked her hand to her forehead.

  Please don't let this be another marathon session of bright ideas.

  “You wanted to see me?” Ella asked as she entered Melanie’s office.

  Melanie's gaze lifted from her computer screen, her eyes cold and narrowed. “Yes. Come in and shut the door.”

  Ella winced at the brusque tone in Melanie's voice. She closed the door and sank into a chair.

  “Do you mind telling me why you were snooping around in here?”

  Ella's eyes widened. “I wasn't snooping.”

  Melanie’s lips thinned. “Don't lie. I've been tolerating your self-pity since I got here, but I draw the line at you going through my things.” She slammed her fist on the desk, causing a few papers to jump.

  Ella's mouth fell open. She searched for the words to defend herself.

  “Not going to explain? I find it fascinating you're not denying it, either.” Melanie rested her elbows on the arms of her leather chair and folded her hands together.

  “I—I was in here,” Ella stammered, “but, I didn't touch anything, I swear. I just wanted to check on the plant I gave you. That's all.”

  Melanie stood, tapping her index finger against her chin. She began to pace. “Well, that story seems to hold true. From what I can sense, you came in, paraded yourself alongside the window, and then left. Am I right?”

  “How did you know?” Ella's eyes scanned the room. “Do you have surveillance in here?”

  “I don't need technology to know you were in my space, invading my privacy. I brought you in here for one unsolicited piece of advice.” Melanie stopped in the middle of the room to shoot Ella an icy stare. “Don't mess with me, because you'll lose.”

  Ella's stomach twisted into a pretzel and a chill ran up her spine. “Okay. Can I go now?”

  A smile widened on Melanie's face. She turned her back to Ella and walked over to the windowsill. “Sure, you can. And, Ella, thanks again for the plant.”

  Melanie reached for a pink flower and when her fingertips made contact, it shriveled and drooped. She leaned in and breathed deep. As she sucked in more air, the plant's base yellowed. Several stems turned stick brown and seemed like they could snap right off. “Ah. I needed that.” The cackle that rose from her throat rivaled any cartoon villain's.

  Ella jumped out of her chair and backed toward the closed door.

  “Let's keep this between us, eh?” Melanie straightened and faced Ella, pulling off her glasses and touching the earpiece to her lips. “We wouldn't want everyone around here concerned for your mental health.” She burst into a fit of laughter.

  Ella bolted out of the office, down the stairs, and out the front door of the building.

  Cold air assaulted her face, but the chill that spread within her had nothing to do with the weather. Her heart thundered in her chest as she marched the length of the parking lot and back. She paused a moment, then walked over to the railing where traffic passed on the busy road below.

  Should she tell everyone Melanie was something…else? A person with a strange power to kill living things? She closed her eyes and envisioned sharing the morning encounter with her co-workers. Her shoulders slumped. They would think she had lost her mind, and she wouldn't fault them for it. Worse yet, all of them would pity her.

  She could resign and pretend the whole thing never happened. Everyone would believe she had hit her breaking point, and she was ready for a change. Nobody would judge her and she could leave with the good reputation she had built intact.

  Ella smoothed out her dress and ran quivering fingers through her wind-blown hair. Composing herself as much as possible, she re-entered the building, giving a weak smile to anyone she passed. She plunked down at her desk and wrote Melanie an email to tell her she would be taking a personal day, gathered her things, and headed home.

  * * * *

  Ella sat at the kitchen table with her laptop. Len and Madiso
n came in from the garage and she greeted them with a shaky smile. Madison stopped short before coming any closer.

  “Are you okay, Mommy?”

  “Yes, sweetie. That's a silly question. Now come give me a hug. I've been looking forward to it all day.” Madison complied and then ran to her room to play with her toys.

  “You're home early. What's this?” Len leaned over her shoulder and peered at the screen.

  Ella couldn't look at him. “I'm working on my resume. You were right. I need a new job. I had a huge fight with Melanie and I left afterward. I'm not sure I can go back. It was awful.”

  Len rested his hands on her shoulders and gave a gentle squeeze. “You should have called me. Whatever you need to do, you do it. I'm behind you, one hundred percent.”

  “I don't know what to do. That's the problem. She's horrible.”

  “Try to answer this question for yourself.” Len slid into the chair beside Ella's and rested a hand over hers. “Can you put aside what you don't like about this woman and get your job done? See her day in and day out and not let it eat you up inside? Let that be your guide. I wish I could help more, but only you can make this decision.”

  “I definitely can't.” Her lips trembled. “She did something impossible and I can't get it out of my head. All day, I've been sitting here trying to forget about it.”

  “If you leave, then you won't have to worry about anything she does.”

  Ella's eyes stung.

  “What's the matter?” Len asked.

  She pulled away from Len and buried her face in her hands. “I'm afraid to tell you. You'll think I'm crazy.”

  “Nonsense. You always tell me everything. This should be no different.”

  She laced her fingers together in her lap and slumped forward. A few tears splashed on the edge of the laptop's keyboard. She swiped a finger through the miniature puddle and traced little circles.

  “Yesterday, I bought her a plant. I wanted to check on it after she left because of what happened to the others. She confronted me about snooping around and going through her things.”

  “Ella,” Len said, his voice filled with disappointment.

  She threw up a hand, still averting his gaze. “But, before I could leave her office, she laughed and thanked me for the plant. She reached out to touch it, and I swear to you, it died before my eyes.”

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