I actually wrote this short a few months ago. I didn’t care for it that much, but it’s an offering nonetheless.

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Short story prompt – A broken wristwatch, peppermints, and a hug that goes too far

Peppermints and Metal

            She rifled around her handbag for peppermints, having suddenly tasted an acerbic combination of the coffee and breakfast omelet she had scarfed down in the car on the way here. She was reaching toward the very bottom of the bag when the receptionist poked her head into the testing room. “Ms. Ritter, Mr. Coleman asked to give him a few minutes. I’ll come back to get you.”

“Thank you.” She wasn’t sure whether her words were directed toward the young woman or the outline of the mint she finally found in her bag. Popping it into her mouth, she closed her eyes as the cool flavor permeated her senses. Quickly opening her eyes, however, lest she was discovered with her eyes closed moments before an interview, Allie attempted to calm herself down. She also stopped herself from logging back into the test module to re-do the entire thing. Having taken long enough to ensure that her answers were correct, the nagging feeling that she had failed miserably—not that atypical for her—would simply have to lie in wait until this part of the day was over.

“All right, time for the gauntlet,” the receptionist announced when she walked in. She winked.

Allie chuckled. “I’ll note your choice of words.”

“Don’t worry; Mr. Coleman is a teddy bear.”

Allie followed her down the quiet hallway. She glanced through the few open doors they passed and noticed that whomever she saw smiled at her. Some even waved. All good signs, she supposed, although at this point, they could throw daggers at her and she would accept the job if it was offered to her. The receptionist led her into a spacious corner office and wished her well before departing. Behind Mr. Coleman’s desk, a breathtaking view of the Los Angeles skyline momentarily diverted Allie’s attention from her trembling hands and wet palms. She wouldn’t be alone for long, however, as she felt a slight draft behind her. The opening of a door. Be charming, she told herself, before standing up.

“Please, please, have a seat.” As he approached her, she was reminded of her grandfather, who was similarly rotund, bearded, and held the same warm demeanor as Robert Coleman. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all. However, her grandfather wasn’t the CEO of a Fortune 500 auditing firm. She gulped, her nerves resuming their frenetic dance. “I hope we didn’t keep you waiting too long.” He walked around his massive desk and sat down.

“Not at all,” she replied.

“Wonderful. Before we get started—” He looked toward the door and nodded. “Ah, there he is. I wanted to bring in our Senior Vice President to sit with us. He’s in charge of the division you’ll be potentially supporting.”

Should anyone ever ask, Allie was certain that she now knew what shock, anger, and nausea tasted like when they converged: like metal. Pure metal settled itself on her tongue, diminishing anything the tiny peppermint had achieved.

He took her hand in his, delving into her eyes with a fixed gaze. She firmly removed her wet hand from his iron grip and sat back down. Turning her attention to Coleman, she peripherally saw him pull up a chair.

“Let’s get started, shall we?” Coleman began. He opened a file folder on his desk. “I was very impressed by your qualifications, Ms. Ritter, and your test scores were—”

His voice drifted further and further away. Allie had returned to the dark days of the past, when she was married to a man whose idea of fidelity was skewed; he was devoted to one woman, sure, but that woman wasn’t her. The divorce had been ugly, his words and actions even uglier. She chided herself for not fully researching the company, short of a quick scan on the “About” link on their website. She would have seen that the Senior Vice President was her former husband; she would have stopped herself from applying to the Administrative Coordinator position; she would have kept the bitter taste of metal from infiltrating her tongue.

“Ms. Ritter?” Coleman asked.

“Yes?”

“Please, tell us a little about yourself.”

Continuing to focus only on Coleman, she gave a brief rundown of her schooling and where she grew up.

“Bob, I would like to actually ask specific questions about Ms. Ritter’s skills and how they’ll work for our team. Do you mind if we have a few minutes?” he asked.

“Not all. The floor is yours.” Robert Coleman smiled at her and ambled out of the office.

Allie swallowed thickly. They were alone.

“Do you believe in destiny?” he asked, walking around the desk and sitting on its edge. “That after three years, we were meant to be together once again?”

She remained silent, focusing on the skyline behind him.

“I’ve missed you, Allie. I hate calling you ‘Ms. Ritter.’ I remember when we shared the same last name.”

God, help me, she prayed. I want to kill him.

“I still have it, you know,” he then said softly. He pulled it out of his shirt pocket. She eyed the watch, with its frayed leather strap and the crack on its exterior. She had given it to him on their wedding day, only to drop it while attempting to put it on his wrist. They had laughed, joking about her famously shaky fingers when she was nervous. He had promised to always keep it.

Freshly infuriated, Allie looked him square in the eye. “You don’t deserve that watch,” she said. “It was for a different man, from a different time.”

He raised his eyebrows. “That’s not fair, Allie. I made mistakes, but I didn’t change.”

She gaped at him, momentarily struck by how thoroughly deluded he was. Nevertheless, she stood up. “Interview over,” she announced.

He was by her side in a flash, it seemed. He put his arms around her and pulled her body into his, hugging her tightly.

She shoved him with all the strength she could muster, causing him to bump into the desk and knocking a few items down. “You don’t get to do that,” Allie said, breathless and angry. “Different man, different time. Not you.” With that, she turned and exited the office. Coleman wasn’t in the hallway, but then she didn’t care.

“How was the gauntlet?” asked the receptionist as Allie passed her desk.

“I made it through.”

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