The beep of the intercom startled Lisa as she sat at her desk. A scratchy voice on the speakerphone announced that there was dessert in the break room. Lisa sighed and dutifully followed the others leaving their cubicles. The report she was working on was doing her head in, and she welcomed any chance to get away from staring at spreadsheets on her computer.
“Can you believe they wanted us to work overtime for that Jenkins report?” Vanessa said to her as they trickled into the break room.
Lisa shrugged. “He keeps wanting more but under the same deadline, and management isn’t saying no.”
“Typical,” Vanessa said.
Usually, the dessert was cake, but this month it was store-bought apple and pumpkin pies to celebrate autumn. There wasn’t an oven to warm them in, so they were cold from the grocery store cooler. Lisa missed the scent of cinnamon from her homemade pies.
One of the managers, Chelsea, already had several paper plates laid out with slices on them. “Dig in, gang!” she said as she added generous dollops of whipped cream to each one.
Lisa sat with the others from accounting. Vanessa sat beside her and picked up her conversation from earlier. “Know why all the schedule’s messed up? The higher-ups are distracted with budget cuts again.”
“Yeah?” Lisa bit into the pumpkin pie. It had an odd metallic taste to it. She added more whipped cream to each bite to mask the taste.
“And who’s always the first to go? Us.” Vanessa cut the crust of her apple pie into uneven pieces. It was too dry, and crumbled apart. “They think any idiot with a calculator can do numbers.”
Lisa didn’t reply, just mumbled something noncommittal. Chelsea was only two seats down. The monthly cake break was meant to give people the chance to socialise and relax, but Lisa sometimes suspected it was also a chance to catch people saying things they wouldn’t normally. Lisa got lost in planning the layout of the report so that the client would finally be happy—he didn’t have a clue how long it took to gather the data he wanted.
“I hope that desert island is nicer than here.” Vanessa’s voice brought Lisa back to reality.
“What?” Lisa realised she had been tapping her fork against the table in a discordant rhythm. The plastic chair was digging into her legs, too.
Vanessa smirked. “You were a million miles away just now. What’s on your mind?”
“Oh.” Lisa waved to her plate. “The pie was a nice change.”
“Uh huh.” Vanessa scrutinised Lisa. “You’ve been very quiet this week. You don’t join in the chatter like you used to.” She leaned closer. “Spill. What’s up?”
Lisa took another bite of pie to stall. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said around the mouthful.
Vanessa rolled her eyes. “That pie isn’t that great. It tastes like the T-1000 sneezed on it.” She pushed the crust crumbs around her plate. “What is it: boyfriend? Money? Job?” She paused. “You’re quitting, aren’t you?”
Lisa froze. The pie tasted like metal shavings in her mouth. Vanessa could’ve appeared mean-spirited, but she was more shrewd than that. Lisa glanced around. No one else appeared to have heard.
“No one knows yet,” she murmured.
Vanessa looked like the cat that caught the canary. “Atta, girl. Get out of here while you can. Got anything lined up?”
Lisa only had a scrap of crust left. She crushed it into dust as she answered. “University. I’m starting a Master’s degree in a month.” At Vanessa’s raised eyebrow, she added, “Physics.”
“I bet those places serve better than factory-made desserts,” Vanessa said with a smile. “Congrats, kid.”
Lisa frowned. “You’re only three years older than me.”
“Semantics.” She grinned. “I think this deserves another piece of pie.”
Lisa glanced at the remaining pie slices. “I don’t think I deserve something that bad.”
Vanessa laughed. “You’re right. You deserve a medal for getting out of here alive.”
The chat continued on around them as Lisa raised her fork in salute, and Vanessa returned the gesture. They may have been overworked and underappreciated, but Lisa felt a quiet camaraderie with Vanessa. The next month looked like it would be far more tolerable now.
This story is the fourth among the first volume of the Binge food fiction series. To continue following Morgan and Lisa, wait to read the last of the five-part series.