Zero Girl by Allie Marini Batts

The office was mostly empty, as usual, and the lights were still off when I got in to work just before eight. I dropped my backpack at my desk and headed straight for the breakroom to put on coffee and watch it, because even though there were only a few other people here, if I turned my back for even the briefest second, there would be only a quarter of an inch of coffee left, and no one would have been courteous enough to start a new one. If it’s before 10 a.m., and you drink the last cup of coffee without making another pot, you’re an asshole. This office is full of assholes.

My eyelid started twitching as the coffee started to perfume the air. I gripped the handle of my mug and hovered closer, waiting for the tell-tale gurgle of the last pool of water draining through the reservoir and dripping into the filter, letting me know it was time to snatch the pot off the burner and make sure that I got at least one cup of the coffee I made. I stirred in two packets of the yellow stuff and opened the fridge, pulling my white chocolate flavored creamer out of the insulated lunch sack I stashed in the vegetable keeper to keep it safe from the same coffee bandits that never make a fresh pot. Because they’ll steal your creamer, too. Assholes.

With a mug of the holy trifecta—caffeine, artificial sweetener, and faux chocolate—I was ready to go back to my desk. In the ten minutes it had taken to make coffee, Chrissy had come in and flipped on the lights. On my desk, where last night when I left, there had been nothing, there was now what looked like a slim magazine. As I pulled out my chair to sit down, I picked it up, curious: a single issue of a comic bookcalled Zero Girl. Next to the comic book, there was a tidy stack of brown packets of Sugar in the Raw. Each packet had a single word written on it:







I looked at the cover of the comic book and noticed there was a yellow sticky note attached to one of the interior pages, serving as a sort of bookmark. I flipped to the page. The Post-It had another note, written with the same Pilot pen that had written on the sugar packets: She looks like you, except you’re real.

I looked at the drawing of Zero Girl—and it’s true, the likeness was unmistakable, from the squarish tops of the frames of her glasses, to the streaks of pink hair framing her face. Self-conscious, I caught myself tucking a lock of my own behind my ear. Before I sat down, I scanned over the tops of the cubicles, stacked as neatly as the sugar packets. There was no telling. But he’s there, in one of them. Asshole, I thought, smiling.