Author’s Note: I know no one wants to see Malia Moreno in a sympathetic light, but even villains have their vulnerable facets, those triggers that influence them to do bad things. And even good guys have their dumb-ass moments, and this is the biggest one Sam Harrison has ever had.

My level of panic as I head to the office on Monday to face Frannie is exceeded only by my level of panic over what I’m going to do about this fiasco with Malia. At this point in time, there’s no need to remind me that I’ve screwed myself over completely and that there’s no one to blame but myself. I’m not asking for your sympathy; I’m just keepin’ it real.

There’s no keeping this quiet.  Malia’s best friend Brenda—her only friend, if I have it pegged correctly—apparently was the witness to our wedding ceremony, and she’s spread the news far and wide by the time I reach the office. I walk through the lobby to a chorus of “Congratulations, Sam” and I feel like I’m walking to the gallows.  As I pass the building receptionist—I can’t remember her name, dammit…Carrie, I think, or maybe Corrine—she seems about to say something, but I don’t stop. I’m drawn inexorably to my section by the thought of  “see Fran immediately, explain, and nip this in the bud.”  As if this could be solved so easily.

But Fran isn’t there yet, and there’s already a crowd around Brenda and Malia. Malia is trying to shush her, looking annoyed and harassed, and when she sees me, a look of relief crosses her face.

“There you are, Sam.  Please explain—”

A crowd of Suits and Skirts surround us, choking off Malia’s protests, and it’s not until they disperse that I see Frannie come in, her step light and jaunty, her smile breezy. She flicks a glance at me, smiling, dumps her belongings in her cubicle, and starts my way.

She doesn’t get far. Gretchen, her face grim and full of dread, intercepts her and pulls her into an empty office. From where I stand I can see Fran’s face over Gretchen’s shoulder as Gretchen hurriedly explains the situation.

Frannie smiles in a bewildered sort of way, as if saying “Is this some kind of sick joke,” and then I hear Gretchen, clear as a bell.

“Frannie, it’s not a joke or a gag. I’m…I’m sorry.”

Bewilderment is replaced with disbelief, and now her eyes find mine, seeking my denial.  I’ve actually taken two steps toward her when Malia snags my arm. She’s looking at Brenda, not noticing that I’m walking away. I stop so that I don’t embarrass her by pulling away from her to go talk to another woman.

In that instant, Frannie sees the truth. Pain and shock flare in her eyes for brief moment—I’ll never forget that look as long as I live—and then they go completely dead. She looks away, and that’s the last time she looks me in the eye. Gretchen tries to close the door, but Frannie pushes past her, her movements jerky as she makes her way to her cubicle.

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