The notification for the meeting bounced maliciously on Michelle's desktop. "Well?" Sarah asked, sotto voce, from the opposite desk.
Michelle blinked rapidly, then closed her mouth, and swallowed. Across the open plan of the office, peeping over monitors, sets of eyes surreptitiously watched her reaction, except for five or six others who, she guessed, had similarly unexpected 9.15 am meetings.
She still had her jacket on. Her coffee sat by her keyboard, steam curling into the air. Usually Sarah waited in the second-floor kitchen until Michelle arrived; they would get their coffees together, catch up, and take the stairs to the third floor. The kitchen had been empty, but no suspicions penetrated Michelle's still-sleeping brain; she'd simply moved through the motions on her own. Sarah came to find her on the stairs, her co-worker breathlessly urging her to "check for any unexpected meetings!".
Nothing else needed to be said. Everyone in the office knew what the dancing notification invoked. She stared at her cooling coffee mug. The only regret that surfaced was that she had bothered to rush to arrive on time.
What a waste.
Michelle sat on the curb opposite of Pixelimited, her box of belongings beside her, staring at the building that had been her focus for the past three years. Her phone buzzed and she fished it from her pocket: another emotional text from Sarah. She swiped the notification, but left the phone on her knee, heaving a sigh, letting her shoulders relax.
The sky behind the red-brick building was bright blue, filled with clouds of the fluffiest white; behind her birds chirruped from the shrubs, fighting over dropped bagel crumbs. Across the street three more of her former co-workers straggled out, clutching boxes, their hastily-composed masks of taking-it-on-the-chin slipping into upset or bewilderment.
She waved; one waved back.
"Ay, I don't know." Dolores stood on the sidewalk as though she wasn't sure how she'd arrived there. "I just wasn't expecting anything like this, you know?"
"I know," Michelle replied, leaning back on her hands, head tilted up. Dolores had worked in Accounting, one floor down, and normally departments didn't socialize; but she had been the one to talk to about missed timesheets so everyone knew Dolores. Michelle had often seen her at the subway stop in the morning, listening to her phone, shuffling in the crowd. "Hey, you live in my neighbourhood, don't you?"
Dolores, startled by the non-sequitor, considered. "Yes, same stop as you, I think."
Michelle nodded to herself, pleased by her own observations. "My brother's on his way to pick me up. We can give you a ride home, if you want."
"Oh, thank you," Dolores replied, reflexively. Then she stopped, frowning. "You live with your brother?"
Michelle laughed, her mood slipping into giddiness as she processed the delightful notion that she could sleep in from now on. "No, but he's off today. I texted him when I saw the notification and he said he'd pick me up, save me the subway trip with my box of knickknacks."
"Ay, so nice. Nice to be so close with your brother," Dolores said with a sigh, shifting in her stance, straightening her back only to re-slump, frowning in dejection at her own box of desk clutter.
"Any family here?"
"No, still back in Brasil. But even there, I don't know if my brother would be the first person I'd tell." Dolores smiled at the idea, before giving way to another sigh. "What to do now? I guess we have to figure it out."
YOU ARE READING
After spending her 20s and 30s coasting from job to job, geeky Michelle has finally found her calling. She's teaming up with her out-going jock brother Bryan to create Creampuffs, a gym for ultra-beginners and introverts. They'll need to renovate th...