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Small Talk

The sitter called that morning to say she was sick. Something about her stomach having a headache, or some made-up illness. Still, Vivian wished her good health and left it at that. All that meant to Vivian was that she would have to bring Gemma to work that day. She’d done it countless times before when Gemma was an infant, but now Gemma was nearly 3. Loud, chatty, and inquisitive. A “living, breathing tornado” as Vivian often described her.

The day went better than expected. With the exception of a minor meltdown during lunchtime, Vivian was able to keep Gemma distracted by letting her watch kid-friendly cartoons (though Vivian usually detested mixing children with technology) on an iPad borrowed from a co-worker. At forty-three years of age, Vivian never thought she’d be the mother of a toddler. Still, she loved her daughter more than anything. Sometimes when the sitter came to get Gemma in the morning, Vivian shed a quiet tear.

Vivian worked on the nineteenth floor of a twenty-two-story building. Most days she chose to take the elevator to the fourteenth floor, then take the stairs up the next five floors. It made her feel fit, despite her huffing and puffing once she reached the top. On this day, Vivian was secretly thankful she had Gemma as an excuse to take the elevator both ways. She’d worked later than usual, and Gemma was passed out in her stroller, her Little Mermaid blanket covering all but her wild mess of red hair. Vivian waited for an elevator, tapping her toe impatiently against the marble floor. Finally, a set of doors opened. Inside the elevator was a well-dressed man of about thirty. He smiled and pressed the palm of his hand against the elevator door to keep it from closing.

“Going down?” He asked.

Vivian nodded and rolled Gemma into the elevator with her. The man had already selected “G”, the same level Vivian was going to. The doors slowly closed in front of them.

“Long day?” The man asked, still smiling. He wore an open trench coat over his suit, brown loafers, and a shiny silver watch.

Vivian huffed out a laugh. “You have no idea.”

Had he not been ten years younger than her, she might have found the man attractive. Yet, there was something unsettling about him. The way his feathery blonde hair fell over one eye made her uncomfortable.

“I have a little girl, myself.” He offered up.

“God bless you. No one prepared me for this one.”

The man chuckled. He pulled his phone out of his coat pocket and began swiping fervently.

“This is my girl.” He said, handing her the phone.

“Oh, she’s-” Vivian stopped short of giving the canned compliments a person gives when someone else shows you their child. She looked closer at the photo. The little girl in the photo was sitting in the grass, holding a sippy cup and giving a big cheesy smile at the camera.

She looked exactly like Gemma.

Vivian felt a small chill run through her.

“Swipe left,” He said. “The next one is my favorite.”

Vivian swiped and nearly dropped the phone. It was Gemma. She was fast asleep on the chest of the man who was also sleeping. Though she’d never seen the room before, Vivian recognized Gemma’s favorite Little Mermaid shirt with the enormous ketchup stain on the sleeve.

Vivian tried to remain composed, contemplating letting herself off on the closest floor.

“Beautiful girl,” Vivian said, handing the phone back. “What’s her name?”

“Gemma.”

Vivian tightened her grip on the handles of the stroller. The man was staring at her from under his mop of hair.

“She’ll be three in three weeks. She wants a Little Mermaid-themed party.” He chuckled again. “It’s gonna cost an arm and a leg, but you know, daddy’s little girl gets what she wants.”

The doors of the elevator opened to the ground floor. Vivian pushed Gemma out as quickly as she could. The man didn’t get out.

“Lovely chatting with you,” He said, pressing another button in the elevator. He smiled and gave a small wave as the doors slowly closed again. 

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