"May I speak to Willow?"
"This is Harmony from Accounts Payable."
"Hello Harmony, what can I do for you?"
"We received an invoice from your department, it was allocated to your cost center."
"We get vendor invoices all the time. Is there a problem?"
"It's for $252 payable to staples.com."
"Yes, we order our stationery from them, most departments do."
"In my system there is a Staples Inc., but not staples dot com, are they the same?"
Willow almost dropped the phone. With gritted teeth she managed to eek out one word, "yes."
"Then could you please ask them to reissue the invoice on Staples Inc. letterhead?"
"Harmony, this was an internet order. Through staples.com. Which is an arm of Staples Inc., which we've used before."
"It doesn't match my system. I had to check with you, I'm not responsible for checking vendors."
"Harmony, you've heard of Staples haven't you? It's not an obscure company. You must recognize the logo and everything."
"I only follow instructions. The names don't match and I have to follow up."
"It's not the first time we've had invoices from staples.com, Harmony."
"Well it's the first time for me."
"I doubt they'll send another invoice on another letterhead because we ask them to, what else can I do?"
"Can you countersign this so I know it's been verified by someone and I didn't process it without checking?"
"That I have your signoff to use the same vendor code for this invoice."
"I suppose common sense isn't a valid code in your system?"
"Never mind. Internal mail me the invoice, I'll sign it."
It was that sort of day. If Mad Monday was bad, it was nothing compared with Terror Tuesday. Which was yesterday. Or Wretched Wednesday, today. Faith was a handful. She would flirt unashamedly with any warm body with two legs and it was up to a harassed Willow to constantly unwind the so-called work she turned in. Her boss wasn't interested in hearing any of it. She suspected that he couldn't handle Faith and decided to dump her onto the one person who was never able to say no.
Willow Rosenberg. Old Reliable. Boring. Old. Reliable.
The only bright spot was a call from her friend Buffy. They had gone to high school together but after graduation Buffy went away to college on the East Coast. They didn't keep in close touch, exchanging the occasional email, birthday present or short visit if either of them was passing through town.
"Willow, how are you?"
I'm in a dead end job with an unmanageable employee and I met the most gorgeous girl on the train last Sunday and she's so completely beyond my reach. I don't even know her name, her address or even if she'd be interested in someone like me. Probability = zero. Negative zero.
"The usual, I'm fine."
"I'm in L.A., Angel has a client conference and I'm trying to set up meetings with some production company executives. I'll be in Sunnydale on Saturday, visiting Mom's grave. Want to come by the house for dinner? I need to take a look at the place, see what condition it's in."
"Sure, I'd love to meet up. Should I bring Xander?"
"Let's make this a girls' thing only. No need to include the boys."
"Excellent. I'll order take-out. Pizza or Chinese?"
"I don't mind."
"Always so decisive. I'll see what I feel like when I come to order."
Willow wondered why Buffy kept the house, since it was empty most of the year. It probably held memories for her. She was never entirely sure why Buffy kept in touch with her either, their worlds seemed to have diverged as the years wore on. Buffy had become successful at her business which sold something to the entertainment industry that Willow couldn't quite understand.
"Buffy, I'll talk to you later. If not I'll come by on Saturday. My boss is giving me the evil eye, I'm sorry."
Buffy laughed heartily. "Go. I'll see you in a few days."
"You did what?" Willow exclaimed.
"I threw them away, they were sticky and dusty," Faith shrugged.
"Did you check with anyone before you did that?"
"Should I have?"
"They were backups, Faith. Important data stored inside."
"Well you people sure have an interesting way of treating important data. Those boxes were stacked four high, they don't look like anyone's used them since computers were invented. How was I supposed to know?"
"Usually we only need to retrieve backup disks if there's a crash or a subpoena. They're not the type of disks we need day in day out, but they're essential."
"Well how the hell was I supposed to know?"
"The labels on the boxes say 'backups -- do not remove' don't they?"
"I didn't notice. Look Wilma, if you want me not to touch anything, you gotta tell me."
"I didn't tell you to touch anything. When will you start listening to anything I say? And my name isn't Wilma!"
Willow threw her hands in the air in frustration. "I can't talk to you now. I just can't."
She knew that if she continued the conversation with Faith she'd be in danger of losing her temper. She wasn't sure she had a temper at all, but the experience on the train last Sunday had made her realize that perhaps she was capable of non-wimp behavior when provoked.
Faith shrugged nonchalantly and promptly disappeared, muttering that she was going "for lunch" with the audit manager. Willow now knew what that euphemism was but was too exasperated to be outraged.
She had to report the loss of the data disks to management and it was the most humiliating and depressing few hours in her entire life. By the third meeting with department supervisors, where she was interrogated relentlessly and hung out to dry by her boss, she was ready to quit. She called Xander, wanting to hear words of encouragement from a friend, but he was at the site and not able to talk until after work. Andrew, being unemployed, would not understand her job frustrations anyway. She had no other friend to talk to.
Disenchanted, she packed up her stuff, and watched the clock all afternoon. At 5.30pm she sneaked out via the side door. She needed to get away but she didn't know how or where. All she knew was that she was fuming and teetering on the edge of hysteria ... and rage ... she seemed to be full of unfamiliar emotions nowadays.
She walked without paying attention to where she was.
When she looked around again she found herself at the roof of her office building. She had no real recollection of how she got back there. Despite her fear of heights, and with her inner emotions running riot, she stepped closer and closer to the edge and leaned over the railings to peer down at the street below. The railings were high enough that she wouldn't accidentally fall off unless she climbed over them. But they were low enough so that her head and shoulders were suspended above the ground, nothing but air between her and the concrete sidewalk 30 storeys down.
The queasiness and spatial disorientation she felt as vertigo hit gave her the shock to the system that she needed. After a few seconds, she pulled herself back and slumped down onto the ground. She was never going to endanger herself, but this act of recklessness was so unlike her usual passive geeky self.
A nice name for loser.
Someone who was always at the fringes of society. Would never know the meaning of success. Yes, a failure. Loser.
That was her, for as long as she remembered.
She was still in a dark mood when she met Xander for a quick drink at their usual café. She scowled as she discovered that it was more crowded than usual because most of the floor area was taken up by a huge wishing tree. For a small donation, patrons could write their wishes on a slip of paper and hang it on the branches of the tree. Xander, always a sucker for promotions like these -- plus he wanted to increase his karma -- enthusiastically added his wish.
Normally Willow would not bother, but she was so depressed that she was ready to try anything that could improve her life. She always had one secret wish she held in her heart, and perhaps it was time to ask for it. Whether a gimmicky tree in a coffee shop was the right instrument, she wasn't sure. You never know, she thought to herself as she added hers to the groaning branches. Knowing my luck, I'll be the one to break the tree.
The dark sky reminded her that she needed to head home. Slowly and listlessly she made her way to the darkened house, skipping dinner yet again. She walked up the stairs and to her own room; she kept the room dark, deciding that the lights would stay off tonight. She felt so unhappy that she didn't even switch on her laptop, usually the first action upon entering her room.
Feeling utterly miserable she threw her backpack violently on the floor so it landed with a thud. Pulled her jacket off so it almost ripped and threw it in the same heap as the backpack. Finally threw herself on her bed and buried her face in the duvet. She wanted to cry but she seemed to be failing in even that.
She didn't notice the package wrapped in neat brown paper that was sitting on her desk.