“Nina, you are such a mouse!” Caroline sighed, exasperated.
“I’m not,” Nina protested blithely, carefully pulling out a file drawer and rooting about in it.
“You are!” Caroline insisted, seating herself in the spare chair next to the archive computer desk. “Look at this! You spend three hours putting eight boxes of case files away. Then along comes Dan Blake, the man who made you drag them all downstairs from his office to put away in the first place, and tells you that he needs all eight boxes of cases back. I’m willing to bet that when you finally get back upstairs with all eight boxes of files, he’ll tell you that he doesn’t need them anymore and you’ll have to drag them back downstairs and put them away all over again.”
“Caroline,” Nina said, pulling a particularly fat file from the drawer and depositing it in the waiting file box, “I’m a law clerk. It’s my job to pull files from the archives.”
“And you won’t do much more than sigh at him,” Caroline continued, sighing herself.
“That doesn’t make me a mouse,” said Nina, checking her list.
“That’s just one example! We were in the same law school together. We took the bar exam together and you passed with a higher overall score than I did and yet, here you are, still filing folders and taking notes at meetings. It’s been six months since then, Nina! When are you going to ask the partners for a promotion, like I did?”
“The partners are busy,” Nina said, burying her burning face in the file drawer she was searching.
“That’s another thing,” Caroline added, pointing at her, “it doesn’t matter what I say to you, you always have an excuse. You wouldn’t stand up for yourself if your life depended on it.”
“That’s not a very nice thing to say,” Nina objected softly.
“You think so?” Caroline replied, walking over to her. “Tell me off, then! Go on!”
“Wh- I…” Nina sputtered, her face going, if possible, more red than it was already, “I don’t…”
“Mouse!” Caroline declared, shaking her head as she walked back to the archive desk to sit down again.
Nina hung her head, tears trickling from her eyes.
“Oh, Nina,” Caroline sighed, “the only reason I’m able to tell you these things at all is because I’m your friend. If I wasn’t your friend, I’d keep my mouth shut. I might even take advantage of you like everyone else does.”
Nina threw a reproachful look at her friend before brushing her tears away and returning to her task.
“Well, I have to get back to work,” Caroline said then, standing up and straightening her skirt. “Mr. Gerard has me working on the Phillips case. Think about some of what I’ve said, Nina. I hate to see people use you all the time.”
Alone in the archives again, Nina thought as she worked. As much as she wished to deny it, she knew Caroline was right. She hated “talking up to people” as Caroline called it. She always seemed to lose courage. She’d considered going to the partners and asking to be promoted to the position of paralegal, like her friend, at least half a dozen times and always seemed to lose her nerve right at the office door. She’d been bullied almost constantly throughout school. In point of fact, it was only thanks to Caroline that she’d been able to study law at all. Her mother had wanted her to be a teacher. According to Caroline, though, Nina would have to grow herself some considerable backbone before she’d ever make a good lawyer.
At least her private life seemed to be going pretty well. A few years ago, her grandparents had died and, since she was their only living grandchild, Nina had inherited a sizable amount of money and the deed to their house. Then, last year, while she was at a nightclub with Caroline, she’d met Hector, a tall caramel-skinned Mexican man who reminded Nina of Zorro. Within three months, their relationship had progressed far enough that he’d asked to move in with her. Delighted at this, she’d agreed wholeheartedly and even gone so far as to help him move his belongings, few though they were, into her house. Four months later, though, Hector had moved out of her bedroom and taken up residence on her sofa bed, insisting that she snored. This made her feel really peculiar, but she hadn’t said anything, for fear she’d chase him away. She hadn’t told Caroline about it, either. She already knew what her friend would say. “Confront him! Find out what’s going on!” Nina just couldn’t do that.
Four hours later, just as Caroline had predicted, Nina was dragging the eight heavy boxes of case files back down to the archives again. She’d tried to tell Mr. Blake to stop wasting her time, but the words just hadn’t come out. Two hours after that, though, Blake called down again. This time, he wanted all the material pertaining to the Watson case four years ago and told her to have it all in his office before she left for the day. With a sigh, Nina had called home.
“Hola,” said Hector from the phone.
“Hey, love,” Nina sighed, “I’m going to be coming home late tonight. I don’t know how long I’m going to be. Mr. Blake has me digging through case files again. Can you manage dinner without me?”
“Sure, Querida,” he said, “Take your time, okay?”
“Don’t forget to save me some,” Nina added cheerfully before hanging up.
It took her the better part of three more hours to find everything having to do with the high-profile Watson case. Then another hour to organize it all chronologically; put it in file boxes, six in all; and haul it all upstairs to Blake’s office. By the time she was finished, her whole body was sore and covered in sweat. How she longed to for a nice, hot bath. Pulling her jacket on, Nina hit the speakerphone button and dialed home.
“You’ve reached the phone of Nina and Hector,” she heard when the phone finally dialed through. “We can’t come to the phone right now, so please leave a message.” Nina hung up. She was too tired to try to leave a message. Seizing her purse, she headed for the elevator.
The scene that greeted her as she pulled into her driveway fifteen minutes later, however, made her jaw drop. Most of the flowers and shrubs she had so painstakingly planted early this spring had been pulled up by the roots and scattered all over the yard. Toilet paper hung in streamers from the branches of both the trees in her front yard and the one in the back. Staggering through the debris in the front yard were two or three people Nina had never met dressed in some of her favorite outfits, all of which appeared to have stains on them. Picking her way through the mess, Nina pushed the front door open and was shocked to find that virtually every piece of furniture she owned had either been upended, covered in beer cans, cups and bottles or else utterly destroyed. The now mutilated sofa bed was playing host to two separate couples, both of whom were intently exploring each other’s tonsils with their tongues. All three paintings that had been on the wall, things that had been painted by Nina’s grandmother, were lying ripped amid the wreckage. Several other people were gyrating crazily in the center of the room as her top-of-the-line stereo, now coated with beer and what looked like vomit blared out a song at full volume.
Strangely enough, she didn’t see Hector anywhere in all of this. With a gasp, she headed down the hall to her bedroom, sure that he’d been tied up or something, the only reason her paralyzed brain could come up with for why he could let her house get into this state in four hours and fifteen minutes. When she reached her bedroom, however, she was startled to hear moaning and gasping on the other side of her bedroom door. Throwing it aside, she had the surprise of her life. There on her bed lay two naked people. One, a busty female, had her knees way up in the air. The other, on top of the first and going for all he was worth, was a tall, caramel-skinned Mexican man. Hector.
Seeing this, something inside Nina snapped.
“Hector, you…” she spluttered, “I…”
He continued moving, as if Nina wasn’t even there. At this, years of suppressed rage welled up in Nina and, grabbing Hector’s discarded shoes she threw them at him one by one, hitting him on the head with them.
“Hey!” he protested.
“You!” screamed Nina in fury, “Out! Now!” She grabbed the strange woman’s shoes and threw them at Hector as well.
“Wanna join in, baby?” Hector said, his face a comical combination of fear and hope. Had she not been so angry, Nina might actually have laughed.
“NO!” Nina shrieked advancing on him, at which the strange woman screamed in terror, grabbed her dress and ran for her life. “I want you OUT of my house! NOW!” Nina grabbed Hector’s collection of bobble heads from her dresser and began pelting him with them so that the man was forced to try to dress, defend himself and move away from Nina at the same time. When her supply of bobble heads ran out, she grabbed his supply of magazines—Penthouse, Playboy, Hustler—that she had stupidly put up with for months now, and began throwing them. When Hector reached the front door, having only just managed to pull his underwear back on and still clutching his shirt, jeans and shoes. She threw the remaining pile after him, knocking him out the open door in a flood of glossy printed paper.
“You have thirty days to come back, give me my spare key, and get your stuff out of my house,” Nina said softly, advancing on the surprised man, who now looked truly frightened. “If you’re not back to get your stuff in thirty days, you can collect them at the Salvation Army.” With that, Nina turned to the house, yelling, “The party is over! Everybody out before I call the police!” Nina returned to the house as the partiers left in groups of two and three and stood menacingly in the living room as if daring anyone to stay. Once everyone had left. Nina checked the house from top to bottom. She wasn’t entirely surprised to find a person passed out in his own vomit lying in her bathtub, nor yet the half-naked couple lying asleep in her coat closet. With a sigh, she called 911, and was sent a pair of police cars and an ambulance to haul them out. The police listened carefully when she explained the situation from the moment she came home and ran a camera through her house documenting the remaining mess.
When it was all over, well past midnight, and the police and ambulance had both left with her report and their human cargo, Nina surveyed the damage and went to pick up the phone.
“H’lo?” said a voice on the other end.
“Caroline,” Nina said, “I kicked Hector out of the house tonight.”
“What?” was the reply, much more awake now. “What happened?”
“You were right,” Nina said, falling into the ruins of her sofa-bed. “I had to stay late at work, pulling more stuff for Blake. When I got home, the house was wrecked because Hector was throwing a party. Most of my things have been destroyed and Hector was in my bed with another woman.”
“And you made him leave?” Caroline replied, sounding pleased, “Bravisima! Way to go!”
“I don’t know what came over me,” Nina sighed, fingering the ragged upholstery fabric near her leg. “I guess I’ve been bottling up a lot of resentment.”
“I guess so,” Caroline agreed.
“Anyway, my house is a mess and I’m going to need some help cleaning up,” Nina added, “can I count on your help?”
“What if I told you I’m too busy,” said Caroline in a strangely eager voice.
“Too busy to help your best friend?” Nina replied, some of the previous rage seeping back into her voice as she spoke.
“That’s a girl!” Caroline laughed. “Why don’t you pack up some things and come stay with me for a while until we can get things sorted out.”
“Thanks, Caroline,” said Nina, standing up again. “I knew I could count on you.”
As she hung up the phone, Nina pushed the record button on her answering machine. “Hey, there,” she said.“You’ve got Nina’s machine. Leave a message.”
After reading the instructions, can you guess which word I picked to write about?