I watched Brittany pack up her desk as people stopped by to congratulate her and give hugs, struggling to hold back their tears. Her going away party didn’t begin for another hour, but already the waterworks were starting. She had only worked here for a little over a year, but everyone loved her.
Everyone except me.
I had volunteered to plan her party, and I had spent the past two weeks making sure that it would be a party no one would ever forget.
It all started with a plastic swan. I had been to my favorite cousin’s wedding on the weekend. For favors, she gave out little plastic swans filled with jelly beans in her wedding colors. I brought mine into work Monday morning and put it on the shelf above my desk.
Brittany was a new hire at that point, so no one knew much about her. She happened by and told me she thought my swan was cute. I gushed about the wedding, and how sweet and perfect it had been. Then I told her that if I ever got married, I would put together sample packets of some of our company’s products to give out as wedding favors.
The company specialized in a range of natural products including coconut oil lotions, organic hemp socks, unbleached paper towels and baking soda-based cleaning products. We offered gummy bears with gingko biloba, so you could snack and improve your memory at the same time, and a whole range of teas that would do everything from perk you up in the morning to soothe you to sleep at night. One of my favorite items was an Indian meal kit. “Just add the legume of your choice!” I always used my employee discount to buy friends and family gifts, and they all loved our stuff.
What kept me awake at night was wondering if I would have thought to take my idea to the boss. Maybe. Maybe not. I would never know since Brittany had stolen the idea and run with it.
A few weeks later, the company announced a new line of wedding favors with trial sizes of some of our most popular products. They were such a hit that Brittany received a huge bonus and was placed in charge of a team to expand the wedding line. They introduced a bridal pampering kit and gift baskets for the maid of honor, the mother of the bride and the mother of the groom. They were all centered around an orange blossom scented beeswax candle, which I thought was singularly uninspired.
The company also shelled out money to produce an internet advertisement to be featured on several popular bridal sites. The ad showed a stressed out bride-to-be covered in hives and plagued by frizzy hair and dark circles under her eyes. After she received one of our pampering kits, she transformed overnight into a Zen master who looked like a supermodel. The actress hired for the spot flaked at the last minute, so Brittany stepped in and played the part. Everyone agreed that she was adorable.
I tried to tell Coco in the next cubicle that the wedding favors had been my idea, but she seemed to think it was a case of sour grapes. When I first started at the company, I had noticed one of the older employees helping herself to skeins of organic hemp yarn. I reported her to management. It turned out that the theft was an open secret, tolerated because she used the yarn to knit baby blankets for a charity. It was not officially sanctioned though, so management was forced to act. I was responsible for getting a beloved granny figure forced into early retirement. My relationship with my co-workers had eventually become cordial, but no one ever invited me out to lunch.
Brittany had everyone else fooled. She was always doing sweet, thoughtful things like bringing in homemade vegan cakes for people’s birthdays. There was one in the break room right now, emblazoned with “Happy Birthday, Sara!” in lettering just crooked enough to be charming.
Everyone marveled over how good those cakes were and how you’d never guess they were vegan. There was a reason for that. I had seen Brittany coming out of a bakery with a cake the evening before the boss’s birthday, and it wasn’t a bakery that offered vegan options. I didn’t get my phone out fast enough to snap a picture. All the staff agreed that Brittany had outdone herself with that cake. I knew better than to open my mouth.
Once a temp with an egg allergy had eaten a slice of one of those “homemade vegan” cakes and we had to call an ambulance. I thought Brittany had finally been found out, but it turned out the temp had a whole slew of allergies so she couldn’t say which one had triggered the attack.
Two weeks ago, Brittany returned from a business conference in Hawaii, where she had met Jayde, an ingenue more famous for marrying a movie star than for any role she had ever played. Jayde was in the process of launching a line of all-natural products. She hired Brittany on the spot.
That should have been my bonus, and my commercial, and my trip to Hawaii, and my glamorous new job.
I fingered the purple flash drive in my pocket. After two weeks of careful planning and sleepless nights, I would finally have my day. My desktop Zen Garden, one of the company’s best sellers, had gotten a workout while I tried to hide my excitement.
I was feeling too edgy to sit still, so I went to check on the setup in the conference room. The “Au Revoir Brittany!” banner I had made was stretched along a side wall. Underneath was a covered table with space for gifts, and a hot water carafe with a variety of tea bags, next to a stack of pretty plates. Now all we needed was the cake. I barely restrained myself from rubbing my hands together like a cartoon villain.
I had arranged to have one of those “homemade vegan” cakes delivered. When I explained that it was a surprise for Brittany’s going away party, the baker had promised to make the delivery herself so she could thank her for being such a good customer over the last year. Brittany might be able to joke her way out of lying about baking the cakes, but someone was sure to ask the baker how she made such light, melt-in-the-mouth vegan cakes. I relished the idea of watching Brittany try to talk her way out of that one.
I had spent the last week using my tablet to record people saying nice things about how much they were going to miss Brittany. I had also asked for forwards of office snapshots and had cobbled it all together into a video that would play on the projection screen during the party. On the opposite wall, the IT guy was setting up a monitor for a surprise video call.
I had made several frustrating phone calls trying to contact Jayde. After dropping Brittany’s name, I finally managed to get a call back from Jayde’s personal assistant. I talked her into getting the actress to make a short video call during the party as a surprise for Brittany and a thrill for all her friends here at the company. I thought that “thrill” was a little strong, but Jayde was known for being kind to her fans. I only hoped the assistant came through for me. I needed her to come through.
The placement of the monitor was perfect. Jayde would be able to see the projection wall in the background while talking to Brittany. I touched the flashdrive in my pocket and smiled.
People started to filter in, stacking gift bags and packages on the gift table. Then Brittany walked in, carrying her cake.
“Surprise!” she said. “I volunteered to bake, one last time!”
There were expressions of delight, along with some looks of censure thrown my way for allowing the guest of honor to make her own cake. Brittany beamed at me. I gritted my teeth and stepped out into the hall to call the baker.
“I thought you were going to make the delivery,” I said tersely.
“Brittany stopped by on her lunch hour. She said she had found out about the cake, so she thought it would be funny if she walked into the party with it and surprised you. I hope that was okay.”
“Sure,” I said, my heartbeat pounding in my ears.
Okay. No need to panic. I could always order another one and bring in a “Brittany homemade cake” in the baker’s box next week. It wouldn’t be as good, but it would still reveal her for the liar that she was. Maybe Jayde would even rescind her job offer, so Brittany would still be here. The thought lightened my mood. After everyone found out they had been poisoned with dairy products, Brittany would get fired. That would be even better.
I went back to the party. The boss stepped up and made a speech about what a fantastic employee Brittany had been and how the whole company was going to feel her loss. Afterward she started opening packages. Her official gift was a diamond-encrusted sunburst pendant in the shape of the company logo, but others had gotten her items ranging from journals with handmade paper (“To write down your brilliant ideas!”) to cute sunglass-themed joke gifts (“Because you’re going to be hanging out with movie stars!”).
I kept checking my watch. Jayde should be calling any time now. I cut the cake and put slices on plates, so I wouldn’t have to interact with anyone. After the gifts were all opened, I started playing the video while people lined up for their refreshments. They giggled and pointed at themselves on the big projection screen.
Brittany brushed by me, giving my shoulder a squeeze.
“Great party!” she said. “Thanks!”
She didn’t show the slightest hint that she was laughing at me for outsmarting me with the cake. I had to give it to her. She was good.
The video monitor popped to life, showing Jayde with her flaxen hair and aquamarine eyes. She smiled and waved.
The conference room erupted. I eased my way over to the laptop that controlled the projection wall.
Last week I had followed Brittany on a Saturday while she was running errands. I got footage of her gulping a diet soda then tossing the can in the trash.
That was important for two reasons. Jayde was well known for her stance that any form of artificial sweetener was poison. She was actively working to get the stuff outlawed. Also, Jayde had produced and narrated a documentary about excessive consumer packaging and the importance of recycling. Did you know that Americans throw away over one hundred million aluminum cans every day? No? Neither did the millions of other people who didn’t watch the documentary. (It was nominated for an Oscar. It didn’t win.)
No one was paying attention to me. I slid my hand into my pocket. It was empty. I felt around, then checked the left pocket, even though I knew the flash drive wasn’t in there.
Jayde was prattling away, lapping up the attention from her adoring fans, but that wouldn’t last long. There was no hole in my pocket, and I hadn’t left the drive at my desk. Could I somehow have dropped it on the floor? I began frantically, but discretely, searching.
People were shouting questions at Jayde, and Brittany was laughing and trying to corral them. She managed to get everyone settled down.
“Now that I see what great friends Brittany has there and the sacrifice she’s making to give them up, I feel guilty! I didn’t even give you a signing bonus! Tell you what. . . . Dayne and I are going to be on location for the next month, so we’ll be super busy. Why don’t you go stay at our villa in Tuscany? It’s just sitting there empty, except for the staff. You can relax and recharge so you’ll be ready to jump right in next month!”
Brittany handled this suggestion with just the right amount of gratitude and grace, but some of the other ladies were so excited they started crying.
That should have been my Tuscan villa.
My mind was racing. The flash drive was gone. The footage was on my tablet at my desk, but it would take time to put it onto another flash drive so I could plug it into the laptop.
“It was such fun to meet you all!” Jayde enthused. “I have to go now, but I can’t wait to start working with you, Brittany! We’re going to make such a great team!”
And she was gone. My opportunity was lost.
I wanted to cry. Only the realization that people would think the tears were because Brittany was leaving kept my eyes dry.
I had failed. I was a loser. I would be stuck in this stupid job where no one liked me until I retired. Or got hit by a bus.
Someone tapped my shoulder. I turned around.
“I think you dropped this,” Brittany said, handing me a purple flash drive.
She gave me a nasty smile and walked away.