NICOLE DEAN • by Andy Tu

I’m going to tell on her. Like the time we were in third grade and I saw her snatch someone’s mechanical pencil and slide it into her pocket, the ones where you can twist an eraser up the back. But exaggerating overtime is no pencil-stealing, and instead of a sit-out during recess, I might end up getting her fired.

Nicole Dean. Gone. No longer watching my mistakes with that stolen pencil in hand, ready to report them. I sometimes get the feeling that it’s not coincidence we both ended up at the same company, like she was created just to follow me and keep tabs on every rule I break.

The left side of Nicole’s lips curl up into a half-smile as I walk by.

“How are you doing, Anita?” she asks.

Nodding my head to acknowledge her presence, I feel my mouth automatically forming into a smile back at her. She’ll ask you that every morning, and probably laugh about it to her husband when she gets home.

My boss will be surprised to see me at his door. I usually try to stay out of the way around the office, remaining hidden, my presence like a wireless router performing its work invisibly and without hitches.

“Yes?” he says, sensing someone but keeping his attention at the papers on his desk. His eyes flicker wide when he sees me. “Oh, hi, Anita. I didn’t see it was you…”

I’m going to tell on Nicole, but that doesn’t mean I’m judging her. That’s my greatest strength, my charm. You could be Hitler and I’d still wish the best for you. I’m not like Nicole, who a month ago caught me arriving late and snapped a picture on her phone of me signing in beneath the red digits of the clock. Just twelve damn minutes, and she got me another citation.

“Is there something I can help you with?” he says.

I clear my throat, searching for words. “I… uh… wanted to know if I could take next Wednesday off. I have a dentist appointment that I just remembered now.”

Literally, now. If I hadn’t come to report Nicole, then that crevice on the inside of my molar would’ve gone unchecked until it started aching.

“Oh…” He squints at the calendar on the corner of his desk, not really looking but just fidgeting because he was expecting a more serious reason for my visit, I suppose because the last time I showed up at his office, I told him my brother was in the hospital.

“Yea… that should be fine,” he says. “Nicole usually stays overtime on Wednesdays, anyways.”

Heat simmers up my neck into my forehead. I wonder if my face is red.

“Anita,” he says. “Close the door, would you? I’d like to speak with you in private.”

Doing as instructed, I wonder if perhaps Nicole somehow caught me checking social media on my phone in the morning.

“I’ve been hearing a few rumors.” He leans back in his chair and stretches his arms, clasping his fingers behind his head.

I nod, my eyes wide to convey innocence.

“People taking frequent breaks, clocking out later than they say. Faking overtime hours.” He didn’t say anything about playing on their phones, but then again—doesn’t everyone do that at work?

“You’ve been here for a while now.” Four years, one more than Nicole! “And I know you’re not the type to do those things.” He pauses for a moment, analyzing my stillness. “But do you know anything about this? Whatever you tell me would be confidential, of course.”

I clear the lump of saliva in my throat as casually as I can, bringing my hand up to cough into my fist.

Nicole Dean is your girl. She fakes overtime hours. I know this because I saw her sign-out times last week, when I came back at 6:30 on Wednesday evening because I’d left a USB drive that I’d needed, and no one was here, yet her sign-out time said 6:49. And, I came back the next day because I was curious, and once again the office was empty yet her clock-out time hadn’t passed yet.

Rubbing my khakis where my cell phone is, where my pictures and proof await, eager, I clear my throat.

“Sorry,” I say. “I really don’t know anything about that.”

I linger for a moment longer, wondering why the hell I didn’t tattle when the teacher is asking and willing to give me brownie points, maybe even implicit extra credit. He tilts his head like he doesn’t quite believe me.

If Nicole were watching, she’d probably tell on me for not telling on her. Knowing a crime is being committed and not doing anything about it is just as bad as doing it yourself, isn’t that what they say?

“Okay,” my boss says. “Thanks, anyways.”

I begin leaving, my legs on autopilot just as my words were a moment ago.

“One last thing,” he says.

I gulp, turning back to face him.

“You’ve been coming on time lately. And your productivity has been going up, as well. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve noticed.” He smiles approval at me.

“I… thanks…” I say.

Thanks, Nicole, I guess.

Andy Tu writes where life takes him.

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Every Day Fiction