“I can’t do this anymore.” Joni rose from the desk, pencil in hand. “I’m through!”
“You can’t quit.” The redheaded woman murmured. “You knew what you were getting into.”
“I did and all my contract terms were satisfactorily completed without complaint. You hold nothing over me.”
“We never had to. Would you please get back to work?”
“I’m serious, Ashley.” Joni stabbed the pencil through her messy ponytail. It added a delightful accent to her skewed appearance of rumpled plaid shirt and worn blue jeans. “Really serious. I can’t keep doing this, I feel like I’m bleeding myself dry here—and for nothing.”
“You aren’t bleeding and if you are, you know where the first-aid kit’s at.”
“Not now, Joni. Not this week when I have more than enough to deal with on my hands. Do you have any idea what’s going on right now?”
“You can’t just decide to quit because you feel like joining the latest writer strike or-”
“I’m empty. I have nothing left to give. That’s not an excuse I can make up.” Joni crossed her arms “I could make up a much better excuse if I had the energy.”
“Energy?” The redhead spun around in her chair to face Joni. Her lips pressed together as she fingered the cuffs of her matching pantsuit blazer. “Well, if you’d like a vacation-”
“Don’t want a vacation.”
“-or some time off to-”
“Don’t want that either. I’m done. I quit. You can’t hold onto me and I don’t think that I owe you any-”
“We’ve got everything that I need to hold onto you.” Ashley retorted. “You may have finished one contract, but we’ve renewed your-”
“I never signed it and I never accepted. As of this moment, I formally and verbally refuse.” Joni snapped. “This used to be fun, a dream job. I couldn’t wait to see where it was going to take me.”
“I’m sorry to hear that-”
“You’re not sorry, Ash.” Traces of bitterness crept into her voice. “It took me to a desk in a room with no windows.”
“I could get a window room-”
“Too late for that. Don’t worry about cleaning out the desk though, I’ve got everything.”
“A flashdrive? Everything created under this roof is contracted-!”
“You won’t catch me there. I didn’t work on it or create it on company time or on a company machine. It also is not contracted work, therefore remaining my original idea.” Joni glared at her. “Goodbye.”
The redhead waved half-heartedly as Joni stomped out of the department and through the frosted glass doors. “Genis?”
The sallow-faced assistant materialized by her elbow. “Yes?” He sniffed the air. “Something the matter?”
“Yes, with your nose.” Ashley rolled her eyes. “Quit doing that, it freaks me out. Tell Father we just lost the Joni Martin contract.”
“The Joni Martin contract?” Genis gasped.
“Yes, that one and we’re not going to get any of it back.”
“That’s an average of-”
“I know the numbers, Gen. Just go and tell, Daddy, would you? You’re such a-” The thin fellow scampered off with only a warning glare shot in her direction.
Ashley sighed. “Two-hundred and thirteen books.” She muttered. “Over a hundred of ‘em all best-sellers and now she decides to-?”
A loud shout came from the far end office and the redhead sprang to her feet. She wouldn’t stay around for that. Scooping up her purse from beneath the desk, Ashley ran for the elevator.
She left the corporate building and crossed the road to the cozy café. In the warm, dimmed lights, a spiced pumpkin muffin and a low-fat latte completed her order.
It wasn’t hard to find Joni in the west corner booth.
The exhausted writer looked up at her approach. She looked away as Ashley sat down.
“Hey.” Ashley pushed the muffin over. “Daddy’ll get over it.”
“As if.” Joni poked the treat. “Peace offering?”
“You need it more than me.”
“He’ll see through it you know.”
“Maybe. I thought it was convincing enough.”
“You always think that, Ash.”
“I’m your big sister, I’m honor-bound to think you’re adorable in every way.”
“After you get past the initial urge to strangle me?” Joni tore the muffin in half.
“Well, yes, after that.”
The sisters smiled.
“Think it’ll last?” Joni asked around her mouthful.
“Manners!” Ashley snorted. “Probably not. But if you’re out of the country, there’s nothing he can do, right?”
“I’ll miss you.”
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