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Rated: E · Chapter · Mystery · #1041771
The continuation of my WIP.
Chapter 2

Looking Back

While she was waiting for Todd, Sandy thought back to her first trip to Cape May, back in the summer, five summers ago. She had needed a retreat back then, a retreat from work, a retreat from almost from everything in her life at that point. Sandy remembered what it had felt like to come to Cape May when her life had been in tremendous turmoil. Only a place like Cape May could have changed that for her. And, thankfully, Sandy thought, it did.

Sandy thought back to the meteoric rise of her former co-worker and friend, Ila, from nondescript co-worker to Ruler of the World. Sandy smiled to herself. Now safely removed from the situation, she could do that. But, at the time, there was a major shakeup upwards, with everyone in high levels of management achieving even higher levels of management, leaving Sandy and a staff of four others without any direct supervision at their location. In the corporate environment, this would never do.

Ila became the new manager. Sandy was happy for her friend, at least atfirst she was. Alas, that was short lived. The happiness soon was gone, and so was the friendship soon after that.

Once the promotion came through, Ila believed her promotion to be that to the office of Empress of the World. At least that was how she behaved.

The very next day after the promotion was announced, Sandy entered the workroom where her desk was. Ila was there, sitting at the next desk with Tom, who was holding some papers that Sandy had given him to work on during the previous day. Apparently, he was asking Ila about the papers. In a loud enough voice for Tom, Sandy, and everyone else in the vicinity to hear, Ila instructed her new protege, “Oh, don’t bother with that. I don’t know why Sandy even gave those to you. It’s not even worth thinking about…so don’t!!” With that, they both snickered, and Ila breezed by Sandy without even bothering to acknowledge her presence.

Sandy was dumbfounded. What had happened? Why had Ila so willingly turned in her title of “friend” ? Well, maybe she was jumping to conclusions. Maybe she had misheard or even misinterpreted what she had just walked in on.

She went over to where Tom was sitting. “Tom, those papers that I gave you yesterday, did you have a question about them? Maybe I can help..” No sense in being confrontational and blowing the incident out of proportion if there was nothing to it. However, Sandy knew there was something going on. Tom shifted uneasily in his chair, thus unintentionally signaling to Sandy that her initial instincts were correct.

Sandy had never seen Tom act like this before. She had worked on several large projects with him, and they never had a problem. They never lacked for things to talk about; Tom was about the age of Sandy’s brother, so she knew
the kinds of things he would like to talk about sports, cars, shopping…well, shopping was a topic more to her liking, so she would interject that whenever she could, and Tom would respond by teasing her incessantly about
it. All in all, though, Sandy considered him to be a friend, and thought he felt the same way.

“Well, Ila said not to work on that right now, and she is the boss and she knows what I need to do…” Tom trailed off, not knowing how to end his sentence, but realizing that he better because he was sounding like he didn’t know how to end the sentence. But, he didn’t say anything about what Ila had said directly about her.

Sandy decided that there was no sense in asking. More than likely, he wouldn’t say anyway, and there was no point in making known the fact that she was upset about it, deciding instead to approach Ila, but only if it happened again. This might, after all, be the end of any problems with Ila.

Little did she know, this was just the beginning.

The days grew into weeks, and the weeks blended into months. Things had gotten progressively worse for Sandy, at the hands of Ila, who Sandy, as a way of coping, had now dubbed: “Troll Girl”.

Sandy only had her sense of humor left as a weapon against Ila. Ila, on the other hand was using all other means to destroy Sandy in order to gain more power and prestige in the eyes of her staff. This included planned attacks on Sandy and her work in front of others.

Sandy’s friends noticed changes in her long before she confided in anyone about the problems she was dealing with on an almost-daily basis. The staff responded to these attacks by staying clear of Sandy, which only isolated her even more, making the problems worse. Sandy’s friends at other locations, were getting worried about Sandy. She was not sleeping and began losing weight, both of which Sandy would say are unnatural states of being for her. She still had her sense of humor and tried to make light of her desperate situation.

Melissa and Marta began to make more frequent lunch dates with their friend, in order to give her an opportunity to talk and socialize during the course of the workday. It helped, but as they soon came to realize, it was not
enough. They began to urge Sandy to quit, to get out of the situation which was threatening to both her physical, mental, and emotional health. But Sandy was still Sandy. Or, rather she was still Stubborn Sandy, as she
was known within her family circle. When Melissa and Marta approached her for what seemed like the umpteenth time, Sandy replied: “I have invested too much time in this company to give it all up to Troll Girl now. I’ve GOT to
outlast her.”

“But at what PRICE?!” Marta said, both exasperated and increasingly worried about her friend’s future, both in and out, of the company’s employ.

“ Don’t worry about me,” Sandy smiled reassuringly at both her friends, patting Marta’s hand as she stood up to return to work. “I’ll be OK.”

Then she smiled, and said, “I’ve GOT to be…if something happens to me, who will Troll Girl have to pick on? Besides, it’s like I always say, “When Life gives you a dilemma, you’ve got to make Dilemma-nade!” She laughed a
nervous little laugh, and reached for her handbag.

As they said their goodbyes to each other, Melissa noticed that, despite her joking manner, Sandy’s hand trembled slightly as she picked up her pocketbook to leave, Melissa and Marta exchanged glances but did not speak
until after Sandy had left.

Marta spoke first. “I know I--we--I--should not interfere, but did you notice her hand shaking? I’ve never seen Sandy like this. She is putting up a good front, but it IS starting to affect her.”

“I agree,” Melissa said. “She needs us now. She may not like it if we butt in, but we ARE her friends, and friends need to help when things like this are going on. We just have to figure out how to help. Lunch time breaks, I’m sure are helping, but Sandy really needs to get away from here, if only for a while…”

“That’s IT!” Marta was almost shouting now. People at other tables looked over, so Marta continued in a hoarse whisper: “Let’s call Todd up and suggest he take her away for a fall getaway somewhere.”

But then, Melissa began to back off a little, afraid that they would anger Sandy. “Maybe she wouldn’t like it if we did something like that. We can’t treat her as if she doesn’t know what she is doing. Troll Girl is taking
care of that! Maybe we shouldn’t say anything to Todd, at least right now. We shouldn’t worry him and a call from us will certainly do that.”

Marta insisted. “Things are going to continually get worse and worse for Sandy. She is going to crack under the strain--anybody would. You saw what she looked like, how she acted today. Sandy puts up a good front, but you
know she’s gotta be hurting.

“I still think we should wait before we act. We need a plan before we do anything else. “

“It’s time now to go back. C’mon, we’ll talk more about this. But, I know we should do something.”

Meanwhile, upon returning to her office, Sandy entered the main office and noticed the workroom door was closed. Just as she was walking over to see why the door had been shut, it opened and the rest of the staff poured out
of the room.

Confused, Sandy stopped Tom. “What’s going on? What is happening?”

Tom, her former friend, acted just like the everybody else did when Ila was around. “Uh, nothing much. We--uh--we just had a staff meeting…excuse me, I have to go now.” And off he rushed.

“A staff meeting? How could that be? Last time I checked I was a staff member, too!” Sandy thought to herself. “What’s going on around here? I’ve got to talk to her and put a stop to this, once and for all.”

She went to Ila’s office door, and knocked.

“Come in!” came the terse response in an abrupt and uninviting voice.

“Obviously, she is expecting me,” Sandy told herself. She hesitated only for the briefest of moments, took a deep breath, and entered, half expecting to see a sign reading:


Not that she expected Ila to be literate enough to post such a notice, but that is how Sandy felt about speaking to Ila for the past four-months-that-feel-like-four-years. And Ila always insisted on speaking to her in her office, where the staff could know that Sandy was in trouble …again. Dante’s Inferno, indeed.

“Well? What is it now?” Ila was ramrod straight, sitting in her large swivel
chair, flicking her long black hair over her shoulder in a her best ‘I’m too busy AND too important for this’ manner.

Sandy was not intimidated, despite Ila’s best efforts. Was it Ila’s oversight, or was Sandy being overlooked--Sandy needed to know!

“I heard there was a staff meeting at lunch…Sandy began.

“Yes, there was,” interrupted Ila, who had stopped flicking her hair long enough to tap her pen on the desk for emphasis.

“Well, how come I didn’t know there was a staff meeting scheduled for today? Last time I checked, I’m a staff member, too..”

“That is my style of management--if I want to have a staff meeting with just some of my staff, I will do it. You will just have to get used to it.” Ila was staring at her former colleague as if Sandy had been caught in the middle of some corporate espionage, or something equally as bad.

Sandy tried another approach. “Look, Ila. We used to be friends. I feel very badly that we can’t talk to each other like we used to…”

Ila began flicking her hair again. “I am in a different position now. “ She paused so that the full effect of what she was saying would sink in. “So if that is all, I have work to do.” She flicked her hair one last time, and began reading a paper on her desk. there always seemed to be something convenient that Ila could read or cause her to look away, to drive home the point that talking to Sandy was just not as important as re-reading a memo for the umpteenth time, for example.

Shaken and hurt, Sandy was unable to speak. She got up slowly, and went back to her desk, got her pocketbook, and silently left the office. She reached in, and pulled out cell phone, thank God for the cell phone, its link to
her friends and the outside world. With hands shaking so badly, she could barely dial Marta’s phone number.


“Hi, Mart-it’s Sandy.” Gone was the false bravado of the lunchtime hour, gone was Sandy’s sense of humor; she was almost bereft of her sense of self.

“Sandy! I barely recognized your voice! What’s the matter? What happened?”

Sandy, choking back tears described what had happened. “I guess I’m not as strong as I thought. I don’t know how much more I can handle. Now I’m not even worth having at a staff meeting. Worse yet, I’m not even told that
there is going to be a meeting.”

“Sand, you’ve gotta get outta there. It doesn’t matter if she wins or not. You’re more important than that. Don’t let her affect your health. It’s not worth it.”

“I know, I know you’re right. But it’s hard to give up what I’ve worked so hard for these past nine years.”

“I know it’s a big jump for you. But at least promise me you’ll think about it. A job can always be replaced. You can’t be.”

“Thanks, Marta. I promise I’ll think about it..”

“Please do more than just think about it, OK? Take care of yourself and call me later. OK?”

“OK. Mart. Later.”


After hanging up the phone, Marta turned to Melissa. “Remember when I said at lunch that things were going to get continually worse for Sandy?” and then, without waiting for a reply: “Well, they just did.”

“Oh no! What has that witch done now?”

Marta explained in all-too-painful detail what Sandy’s afternoon had been like. The two friends exchanged looks. “It’s time, Melissa. It’s time.” Now Marta readily agreed, all hesitancy had evaporated with the telling of this
latest horror story, courtesy of Troll Girl.

Marta waited to close to the end of the day, and dialed Sandy’s home phone number. She knew that Todd usually arrived home well in advance of his wife’s return home, and she wanted to talk to him before Sandy got there.

The phone rang only a couple of times before Todd answered.

“Hi, Todd. This is Marta, Sandy’s friend from work.”

“Hi, Marta! How are ya?” Then, sensing that something was wrong, he lowered his voice, and said “Is there something wrong? Is Sandy OK?”

“Yes, she’s OK. Well, that is…” Marta began stumbling around in her explanation. She was sure she would be able to explain everything so easily, and here she was fumbling around on the very first question. Argh! Why are these things so difficult to do when they go really well when they play in your mind? These thoughts flashed through Marta’s mind as she
struggled to tell Todd about Sandy’s latest round with Troll Girl, and what she [Marta] thought might be a way to give Sandy a reprieve.

“I don’t mean to intrude, Todd, but I’ve been thinking. Sandy really needs a break away from that Reign of Terror that is taking place at work. I was thinking maybe you could take a couple of days off, and take her away for a
week or even a long weekend? There must be somewhere that you could take her to unwind a little.”

“Hey, you know, I’ve been thinking of doing something like that. I was going to wait until the Spring to go anywhere, but now that you bring it up, maybe now is the time to do it… I’ve been thinking that she liked Cape May last
year when we stopped there for the day while we were on vacation at the shore. She was really taken by the place. I’ll call down there and see if I can get reservations. Great idea, Marta. Thanks--I’ll start working on that
right now.

“Thanks, Todd. Thanks for letting me speak my mind. I appreciate it.”

“No, thank YOU, Marta! Thanks for calling me, and for watching out for Sandy.”

“Thanks, Todd. Bye.”

After hanging up the phone, Todd retrieved the brochures and pamphlets that he and Sandy had collected during their brief stay in Cape May more than a year earlier.He thought back to that day, when Sandy was excitedly handing each of the brochures to him to hold. She wanted to see all of the town, do all the activities, of which there were many. She wanted to see the all of the Victorian homes, with their fabulous colors and gingerbread trim, and tour
the quaint and luxurious bed and breakfasts for which the town is famous. Trolley rides, horse-driven carriages, miniature golf, murder mystery dinner theatres, ghost tours-- she had wanted to do it all. And the shopping!
“Don’t forget the shopping!” she had said at the time. They had walked through the center of town and wandered through the stores at the Washington Street Mall, among others. Because theirs had been a spontaneous trip to the Cape, they ahd only done a few of those things. And, to Sandy’s dismay, the shopping had been limited. They had run out of time.

That will not happen this time, Todd vowed to himself. This would give Todd a good way to bring up the subject with Sandy, and maybe get her to take some time away from work. Up to now, it had been hard to get her to take
time off. Cape May can change all of that. Cape May can make this happen,
Todd told himself.

He gathered the brochures and maps, and spread them over the entire kitchen table. There were that many, Todd smiled to himself. Sandy will be SO excited!

He chose a hotel on Beach Avenue, because they had had the chance to briefly walk the promenade along the beach, and they both had enjoyed it so much that Sandy had said staying there would be a dream come true, because they
could get up and soak up the sun on the beautiful beach, and take in the sights of the beautiful large guest houses that lined the opposite side of the street, and other views in the early morning before anyone else was up. It would be THEIR time in their just-adopted hometown. They had felt that comfortable there from the very beginning.

Todd made the reservations for late the following week, for a long weekend. From Wednesday through Sunday, they would return to their Victorian getaway.

Todd could hardly wait for Sandy to come home. It seemed like it took forever, but he heard footsteps on the front porch; it should be Sandy, but they were not light and quick footsteps. These steps were heavy, almost leaden.

The front door opened, but barely closed. Sandy entered the kitchen, and sat down on the counter stool that was just the closest seat to where she happened to be. Normally, she would avoid sitting on the stools because they
were not very comfortable for her. But today, that didn’t seem to matter. She just needed to sit.

Todd spoke first. “Hi, Sands. Another rough day, huh?

“I’ll say. If she keeps this up, she’ll be earning herself another name--and Troll Girl will be complimentary by comparison…” Then she began to retell the events of the day, including the part about Tom and the rest of the
staff, and how the situation had now regressed to the point where no one would talk to her if they thought Ila was around. Everyone wanted to stay on Ila’s good side. Besides, they apparently thought that if Ila was singling
Sandy out for such humiliation, it was probably well deserved. And so they joined in, sometimes with gusto.

By this time, Sandy had dissolved into tears, and Todd had moved to encircle her in his arms. “C’mon, Sands,” he whispered. “It’s gonna be all right.”

“I don’t see how after today,” Sandy sobbed into his shoulder. “She just doesn’t want me there. At all..”

“Well, how about if you’re not there? At least for a few days?”

Sandy pulled her head up from its resting spot on his shoulder, and looked straight up at him. “What do you mean? Take time off? Todd, you know what that’ll mean. She’ll have something else to yell at me about, and then once
I’m gone, she’ll hold a meeting every day, just to leave me out. No, I can’t do that. As hard as it is to go in to work every day, it’ll be that much harder when I go back if I’m out for a day or two.”

“ But how about if I told you that the days that you took off…“and he stepped aside to show her the table covered in pamphlets… “and we went to…Cape May??!!”

Sandy paused before answering. She was pleased that he had thought to surprise her like this, and she was enjoying his boyish enthusiasm for the trip. But…

“Todd, thanks, but I can’t. At least, not right now. I’ll come back to nothing..she’ll do something in my absence, maybe even get my job eliminated..who knows what evil lurks in the heart of Troll Girl? Assuming,
that is, that she even has a heart…”

Todd was surprised.. no, stunned. He had not even entertained the possibility that Sandy would turn down the opportunity to go back to Cape May. If he had had a Plan B, now would be the time to put it into action. But there was no Plan B.

He turned and looked at the table. There was Plan B! Get Sandy to the table to look at the brochures. That’ll do it.

He urged his wife to the table, saying,”It’s a shame, with the reservations ready, and all these things we could do and see down there…”

He sat down, and began poring over the the various leaflets that Sandy had been so excited about taking home. Before long, she had joined him at the table, and then began reading over his shoulder. Then, as she became more
involved, she sat down next to him, and they began to reminisce about their summer visit that had captured their imagination.

Sandy sat down next to Todd, and began scanning the scads of Cape May activities that were beckoning to her from the tabletop. She couldn’t help herself; before she knew it, and in spite of herself, she was picking up
individual pamplets and piling them together to separate them as the things she would like to do first.

Then, she stopped, put down the brochure in her hand, and said,”This means I’ll have to go into that pit of an office to ask for the days off.” She slumped back in her chair at the thought.

“C’mon, Sands, you can do that. You’ve done a lot harder things in these past four months than asking for time off that you have more than earned. It’ll take just a couple of minutes to ask, and then you’ll have five days
when you won’t even have to think about her--or anyone else there. ” He put his arm around her and gave her a little squeeze of encouragement, something he called his “pep hug ”.

“And besides, our destination is Cape May. Just think, Sands, we’ll have five times the fun we had last time, because we’ll be there five times as long!”

Sandy nodded her head vigorously. She knew he was right. Grudingly, she admitted that to herself. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to give Todd any credit, it was more that she didn’t want to say to herself that she was
letting her behavior and her life be ruled by Ila. Paranoia was setting in, and that scared her. She did need that vacation. She resolved to go in first thing in the morning, and tell, not ask, Troll Girl that she wanted the days
off. But, first she wanted to plan and then practice what she was going to say.

Todd disagreed, saying: “Do what you want Sandy, but practicing in front of me or in front of the mirror means you are giving in to her. You’ve got to believe in yourself, and believe that you deserve the time off if you’re
going to do this without getting an ulcer in the meantime. By practicing, you are still letting her control your behavior…”

Again, Sandy had to acknowledge that he was right. She was tangled up in Ila’s web of power, and couldn’t extract herself from it, at least it wouldn’t be very easy. She paused and then reminded herself that it would be
worth it.

Tomorrow would be the day that she squared off against Troll Girl. And Sandy would be free. At least for five days, anyway.

Sandy awoke the next morning with a knot in her stomach. She tried to shake off the feeling, but it’s kind of hard to shake off impending doom, she joked to herself. But even her jokes weren’t working today. She didn’t say
anything to Todd because for one thing he would lecture her again about the control issue. For another thing, if she spoke about her feelings it would give legitimacy to them, so maybe if she just kept on with what she knew she had to do, the awful feelings would dissipate and they’d go away.

In the car, Sandy switched on a music station. Almost on cue, one of her favorite songs came on, one that Sandy had enjoyed listening to during her commute to work, back in happier days:“That’s What Friends Are For”. Now the title would benefit from a spelling change. With Troll Girl in charge, dropping the “R” in friends would be the
office anthem . Sandy smiled at her own joke as she pulled into the parking space.

She arrived early on purpose, so she could meditate a while, and then present her request as poised and composed as possible. She congratulated herself after the meditation. She was ready to face Ila and face off against
her, if need be.

Her positive attitude was in full swing. Until, that is, Ila entered the office. Greeting everyone but Sandy with a smile, she barely nodded in her direction and paired it up with a terse “good morning.” Ila, without missing
a step, marched past Sandy, and closed the door unceremoniously, slamming it just a little harder than usual.

Sandy walked to the office door, hesitated only briefly, and then knocked--loudly. “What is it?” was the response from within.

Sandy opened the door; Ila was looking down, rreading what looked like the very same piece of paper she was reading at the end of yesterday’s confrontation. Without looking up, Ila used her pen to point to the chair, indicating to Sandy that it was OK to now sit in the presence of royalty.

“Ila, Todd has some time off, and I would like to take next Wednesday through Monday off.”

Ila stared at Sandy, without a response.

Unwilling to be cowed, Sandy stared back.

“Put the request in writing; use the memo format. I’ll let you if the request is approved.”

“Will I know today? Because…”

“PUT THE REQUEST IN WRITING.” By now Ila had broken off her stare and resumed reading the memo-now-turned prop that gave her a reason not to look at Sandy.

It was probably a good thing that Ila was looking deskward. Sandy had stifled rolling her eyes and confined it to raising her eyebrows. She had never heard of putting vacation days in writing for approval. In all of her nine years in the company, the standard had always been to ask for days as much in advance as possible, and as long as the office would not be deserted, the requested time would be okayed at the time it was requested.but those were pre-Troll Girl days.

“Maybe she’s tired of reading the memo that’s on her desk,” Sandy thought to herself, chuckling softly to herself. “Maybe she needs a little change of scenery on that blotter of hers.”

She could laugh a little now, because, while it hadn’t exactly gone smoothly, it COULD have been much, much worse. “I’ll just do the memo right now, bring it back to her and approved.”

Sandy went ahead and did just that. Bringing the memo in to the office, she found Ila, still with her head down, still reading, still not acknowledging Sandy’s presence.

“Hmmm, shall I use my invisibility for good or for evil?”Sandy thought to herself. “I’m not going to let her get to me.”

She left the memo on the corner of the desk. Again she tried to find out the new process for getting a couple of days off. “Will I find out today?”

“You will find out when it is approved.”

No sense in continuing this conversation, Sandy figured. She got up and left without saying another word. She would wait for Troll Girl to approve the request, and just hoped that it wouldn’t take her all day to read the memo
seeing as how she’s such a slow reader…

At lunch, she told Marta and Melissa all about the upcoming trip to Cape May, and the problems she encountered in asking for the time off.

“A MEMO?? You’ve--she’s got to be kidding!” The friends sat in disbelief. “Couldn’t she just check the calendar while you were in the-- oops--I mean HER office and say yes or no? I’ve never heard of such a thing!” fumed Marta.

“Tell her to go repair her broomstick!” chimed in Melissa. “Maybe she’ll fly off to her coven, never to be heard from again! What a witch!!”

“Well, I think she is watching over her cauldron. I just KNOW she’s cooking up something for you this afternoon--you gotta figure she’s not going to let this go without doing something else to you.” Melissa advised Sandy to be

“Yeah, well you know what they say--you can never be too witchy, or too thin! And she exemplifies that more than anyone else.” Sandy knew Melissa was right; Troll Girl would try to make Sandy do or say something to cause
her further embarrassment in front of her co-workers.

“I’ll be careful,” Sandy promised.

“ You know, they also say that if you draw the blood of a witch, you take away her power. Maybe you can prick her finger somehow, and watch that power of hers drain away…”

“Somehow, I don’t think that’ll work in her case, “ Sandy countered. “She’d never let a little bloodletting interefere with that power of hers; they’d have to peel her fingers off the door jamb to get her away from that

Sandy looked at her watch, and realized that is was time to go.

“Oops. If I don’t get back, they’ll be sending out a posse to track me down. There’s no parole for me yet…”.

“Good luck today!” chimed her friends.

“Thanks, you guys!” Sandy hoisted her pocketbook on her shoulder.”I’ll let you know what happens.”

With a quiet sigh, and a shrug of her shoulders, she gave a little wave, and walked away.

Marta and Melissa watched as Sandy walked away from them, and into the snake pit that she called her office. They remembered earlier times when they had all been friends together, having lunch and sharing their busy lives

“What in the world is going on with that Ila?” Melissa was totally confused by the stories of their former friend and co-worker, Ila March.The afternoon went along well enough, especially since Sandy was busy, and
there were no interactions with the staff, which is another way to say there were no problems.

Suddenly, Sandy realized it was only a few minutes before the end of the day. She had never gotten a response on her days-off request!

She dashed off a quick email to Marta and Melissa:“I’m going in now to see about my days off. She never got back to me. If you don’t hear from me, bring bail money.”

With her heart pounding loudly in her chest, she stood up, took a deep breath and walked towards the modern-day Dante’s inferno that was quickly becoming the bane of her existence.

She had better get those days off--she needed a reprieve from this payrolled purgatory! Maybe, just maybe, Troll Girl will need a rest from her, too. Sandy could only hope.

Ila seemed to sense Sandy’s presence. Without looking up from her latest must-read memo, she flipped her hair off her shoulder, and uttered her invitation: “What now?”

Sandy, determined to stay the course,a nd not fall into the trap of responding to Ila’s coldness, ignored the bait and pressed on. “I want to know if I have those days off that I requested.”

Ila peered up from her must-read pile of papers. Not giving any response, she stared at Sandy, who stood her ground without attacking, but without retreating. Sandy repeated her request.

Still silent, Ila finally spoke. She twisted a crooked crease in her face that was supposed to pass for a smile. It made her look even meaner than usual. Her hair fell in front of her face, and she flipped it back over her
shoulder, in her usual self-important way she did at the same time she was trying to demean Sandy verbally.

“Yes, you have those days. They were approved by upper management this morning. They told me I couldn’t take them away if I wanted to.”

Thoughts flooded into Sandy’s head. “What did THAT mean? If she knew this morning, why didn’t she tell me. She lets everyone else know about their vacation time right away. And what did she mean when she said “ if I wanted to? Is that a softening of her stance of being anti-Sandy? Or had she TRIED to get upper management to refuse Sandy’s request?

No sense in giving her the benefit of the doubt, especially in light of her treatment of Sandy of late, almost ignoring her very presence. No, Sandy decided, this was Ila at her best. Working behind the scenes, she was doing
her darnedest to control everything about Sandy-both in and out of the office, while pretending to everyone else that she had Sandy’s best interests at heart. No, this was Troll Girl at her best. She had tried to stop me from getting my time off, Sandy decided. It’s a good thing I only have to put in a couple more days here. Cape May couldn’t come soon enough. It was only a couple of days, but it would be a couple of VERY TOUGH days.

Sandy bristled at the thought. “Oh, maybe I’m getting too paranoid now,” she chided herself. “Maybe if she did try to stop me, maybe someone took notice of it, and put an end to her power grabbing.”

“Ah, it doesn’t matter really, ‘cause two more days here and then I’m out of the office for 5 whole days, and that’s gonna be HEAVEN!!!”

She went back to her desk, got her coat and pocketbook and pulled out her cell phone. She wanted to call Todd and Marta andMelissa and tell them and the whole world that she was getting paroled! Or, at least a temporary reprieve!

Todd answered on the first ring; he had been waiting for her call. “What happened, Sands? Did you get the time off from Bosszilla?”

“Yes, I did,” Sandy said triumphantly. “She did her best to not give it to me, but I got it. Only two more days! I can do that.”

“That’s the way to think! Just don’t pay any attention to her remarks.”

Sandy smiled. Todd meant well, but it was SO HARD for her to ignore one slight after another. Thank goodness Todd had made the arrangements to get away to Cape May. At least he gets SOME things right, she laughed to

Now, to spread the news to Marta and Melissa, who were anxiously waiting to hear the fate of their friend, after reading the cryptic email with the sardonic ending that Sandy loved to include whenever writing about Troll
Girl. “Bring bail money” was Sandy’s playful way of mocking the situation whenever she was going to meet face-to-face with her nemesis.

Both Melissa and Marta were at their desks, at the ready should their friend need any assistance. The relationship between Sandy and Ila was growing progressively worse, with some meetings ending in shouting matches. Sandy would try to laugh it off but her friends were truly worried about how this was all going to end--and WHEN. It was very painful for them to stand by and watch. While they were always available to talk, they were secretly afraid that the shouting matches would become physical at some point, and didn’t want Sandy involved in any of that. Sandy, trying to allay their fears, would say things like, “ I guess I should pray that she stays healthy. Good grief, if ANYTHING ever happens to her, I’d be the first person they’d look at!”

Although they all laughed at that, Sandy’s friends, and Todd, too for that matter, worried about that. While nothing would probably happen, Sandy had not made her hellish conditions at work anywhere near a state secret. This, too, was her style. While her friends new she used humor to cope, there was a need she had to talk about what was happening. She had kept quiet for a long time after the harassment had begun, but the silence had cost her. Weight loss and trembling hands were just the outward signs of the pain and turmoil simmering underneath the surface.

But Sandy was certainly smiling now, even as she dialed the number to Melissa’s desk. The phone barely completed the first ring when it was interrupted with ”Hello? Sandy, is that you?”

Melissa was relieved to hear that it was, indeed, Sandy on the other end of the phone. She nodded to Marta, affirming that to her, wiping the worried look and replacing it with a relieved grin.

“What happened, Sandy? We were getting a little worried..it’s getting late, noting to herself that it was just 5:00 and the end of the day. “She really made you hang for your answer. What’d TrollGirl have to say for herself?”

“WELL,” Sandy began, emphasizing the word as a way to release some of the pent-up nerves that had plagued her during the day, “she almost DIDN’T give me an answer. She made me wait until the very end of the day, and I ended up
going in to see HER. You know she goes to everyone and else to give them the good news when they ask for time off. Not me--in fact, she even told me she asked if she could refuse my request!!”

Melissa and Marta both stared at the phone in disbelief. “ Don’t take this the wrong way, but..are you SURE she said that?” Marta asked, incredulous, almost afraid to ask the question-- afraid of asking the question, and of
raising a question about her friend’s state of mind. It just didn’t seem possible that anyone would come right out and say anything so outrageous as denying earned vacation days when there was no job-related reason for the

Sandy understood her friends’ surprised response. She would probably have had the same reaction if one of them had told her the very same thing!

“I don’t blame you for thinking that I’m mistaken, but said it she did..” Sandy responded.

Marta persisted. “But WHY would she say such a thing and put herself in a bad light with the “Powers that Be”? That’s risky behavior, even for Troll Girl..”

“I know. I thought the same thing for an instant. I think she thought it was worth the risk if she could stop me from doing what I want to do, and she is on a power binge. She wants me to know, in no uncertain terms, that she is
out to stop me at every turn--just another move in her plot to get rid of me. Note to Troll Girl: ain’t gonna happen!”

“Well, at least you got the days off-- and maybe that request from her to deny you the days off will wake up someone there on the eighth floor!” was Melissa’s response to what she had just heard.

“Yeah, I’m happy--VERY happy about the days off. But don’t count on anything changing because of her trying to stop me. Remember The Powers That Be are the very same people who put her in charge of this asylum. They’re gonna
cover her bad acts as best they can. They’ll never admit that they made a mistake.”

“That’s true,” Marta agreed. “Just be careful. At the risk of stating the obvious, Troll Girl’s out to get you--she’s just waiting for you to do something she can jump all over.”

“Yeah, my main goal is to get through the next two days in good enough shape to enjoy Cape May. She’s mad about my time off, but she’s even angrier when I’m THERE! I can’t win for losing with her, THAT’s for sure” her voice
trailed off, and she switched gears a bit. “Hey, I’m holding you guys up from leaving. I’m gonna go home, kick off my shoes, and plan what I’m gonna take on my Cape May vacation!..I’ll worry about tomorrow…TOMORROW!”

Marta and Melissa said their goodbyes. By that time, Sandy was at her car in the parking lot. She stopped looked back at the building, and up at the second floor, at the windows of her office. She did a quick double-take; she
thought she saw the thin outline of Ila looking out at her. But there was no one there now. “Stop being so paranoid,” she chided herself. Then, “I really DO need that vacation. I REALLY do!”

The rest of the ride home went smoothly. Actually, Sandy thought to herself as she turned into her driveway, everything in her life was going smoothly, except for work. Yet that seemed to overpower everything else. How is that
possible? That I let that one part of my life control what I think, what I feel and what I do everyday? “ She shook her head in disgust. She was angry at Troll Girl for betraying her, but more than that, she was angry at herself for letting Ila have that kind of power over her.

Todd greeted her at the front door. He had gotten home before her, and was watching and waiting for her
“I was getting a little worried about you,” Todd said after giving her a big, welcoming hug. “After your encoounter at the office, I wasn’t sure if another skirmish had taken place.”

“Oh, no. Sorry, Hon. I was on the phone with the girls and time slipped away from me. You know how it gets when we’re discussing HER…”

“I know, Sands, I know.”

She let her hug linger even after Todd had begun to release her. He looked down at her and as she turned her head to look up at him. He could see the beginnings of tears forming in her eyes. She tried to blink back the tears
but it was no use. They were determined to spill out from her eyes, dangle momentarily on her lashes and run in little rivers down her face.

“Hey, what is this? Sands, you almost made it through…just two more days. You’ve made it this far. You CAN do it, Sands. Believe in yourself!”

She nodded her head nervously as she tried desperately to compose herself. Sniffing back her emotions, she said, “I better get started on dinner. You must be starved.”

Brightening at the thought of dinner, Todd smiled. “Don’t you worry about a thing--dinner is ready.”

Sandy couldn’t hide her surprise. “Dinner? You MADE dinner?”

Without answering her, Todd guided her down the hallway to the kitchen.
He stopped at the counter and threw a dish towel over his arm. In his usual
non-identifiable accent that he used when he was in an especially jovial
mood: "Zees way, Madam. I weell hep you weeth your seeet.”

With a flourish of his arms, he pulled the kitchen chair out. Sandy sat down, still very surprised and mildly amused.
“Deen-ner ees serfed, Ma-dame.” Todd continued in his new role, to Sandy’s delight.
…And here eet ees..” With his back to her, he whirled around, with a pizza
box balanced dangerously on one arm. With another flourish, he flipped open
the lid of the box. Inside were two slices of plain pizza for Sandy, her
favorite way to enjoy it--always explaining that the food was best in its
purest form.

By contrast, Todd almost always chose an odd topping. Tonight’s choice was no different. Without another word, he took a huge gouge out of the piece he had carefully selected from the box.“I deeed not MAKE dinner, Mad-am, I did one better. I PHONED it in!!” They both laughed, and began divvying up the pizza. Todd poured their sodas,
and they talked about Cape May. Amazingly, the names of “Ila” or even “Troll Girl” didn’t come up, not even once.

Sandy and Todd, in anticipation of their trip took out all of their brochures and the coveted map of Cape May that sandy liked to just look at, and remember what it had been like while they were there.“Remember how blue the sky was,” said Sandy, looking out the window, imagining the wind blowing through her hair, with the sun so bright, she was
forced to squint.

“What I remember,” said Todd, in between taking a huge mouthful of pizza, is seeing the sign for funnel cakes. His face took on a dreamy appearance, as he thought back to the little kiosk on Beach Avenue that offered this
culinary delight, one of Todd’s absolute favorites.

Sandy looked at him with a mixture of humor and dismay. “THAT’s what you remember? Are you kidding me? With all the sights and sounds of that beautiful town, THAT’s what you remember?!”

Todd’s eyes sparkled with humor at getting the reaction that he was looking for. Still the same Sandy, he thought to himself. Underneath all of the hurt and anger and dealing with everything at work, there was still that flicker
of the Sandy he had fallen in love with all those years ago…this, he decided, is a good thing. Cape May will bring the hidden Sandy out again. Todd was pleased, with himself (for making the Cape May trip a reality, as much as with his realization that Sandy was still Sandy.)

They ate the pizza and planned the trip. As the pizza disappeared, Todd got up from the table, and went to the fridge. With his back now to Sandy, he told her to close her eyes, and cover them with her hands.For once, Sandy followed Todd’s instructions without so much as a question or a wisecrack. Todd was surprised but didn’t say anything, except, “Ready?”


Todd walked back to the table. “OK, you can look now.”

Sandy brought her hands down to the table slowly, unsure of what Todd was up to. She was never quite sure anymore; she thought she knew him backwards and forwards, but lately he was always coming up with surprises of all kinds,
trying his best to help Sandy cope.

“Ta-da!” With yet another flourish, Todd swept away the paper towel that he had draped across the plate balanced on the palm of his left hand.

On the plate was a huge chocolate-covered brownie. “I know you don’t eat dessert usually, but uh, I thought tonight you could make an exception, and, uh, sort of celebrate..”

Sandy reacted with surprise: “Todd! That is SO sweet of you! But why?”

"Well, when I was in town before, I went past the bakery, and thought that you might have had a really rough day today. And, you know," he said with his eyes twinkling with good humor, “the answer to ALL problems is FOOD. So I
decided to get this for you.. Do you like it?”

“Well, of COURSE I do! You know I love when you do things like this. Thanks, Toddy!”

“You’re welcome, Sands.” He sat down next to her, and handed her a fork. “Have a go at it.”

With the fork in mid-air, right above the brownie, Sandy looked up at Todd, knowing his penchant for desserts, “Don’t you have any? Want some of mine?”

Todd looked sheepishly back at her, then cast his eyes downward. “My dessert is watching you eat the brownie. ..Heh, well, I DID have one, but I couldn’t wait, so it’s gone al ready. but that’s OK. Go ahead.”

“Todd! Didn’t the doctor say for you to stay away from brownies and cakes? You were doing so well! What happened??”

“Well, as I said, I was in town this morning, and walking in front of the bakery. My stomach rumbled really loudly, so I turned to go inside. As I opened the door, I realized the noise was just an airplane flying overhead . But by that time there was a group of people behind me, and the bakery was crowded in front of me,. I was simply carried by the crowd..”

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