This is something I’ve been working on for some time. Enjoy.
— JB Steele
People had been glancing at the two of us most of the morning. She found several reasons to come to my desk, little reasons of no real importance. I did the same thing. She’d look up and I’d be standing there, quietly. Without a word, I’d go somewhere else. Anywhere else. When I got there, I’d work on something and feel a hand on my shoulder. I’d squeeze the hand, knowing instantly whose it was. A sad smile and she’d be gone. We tried not to be seen together, unless one of us found some little reason to come back to the other.
Everyone else knew something had happened. How could they have known otherwise? She and I were partners in every sense of the word. We were colleagues, friends, and now lovers. Our relationship had progressed from the ﬁrst shy moment we met three years ago at work, from little jokes and teases, to genuine trust and affection, to love. Every step had progressed naturally, and neither of us had thought it strange. Our coworkers at the ofﬁce watched this with approval, and so did the bosses. Most of those people, anyway. A couple of the higher-ups didn’t like it.
I got up and walked toward the coffeepot. Maybe the taste of the truly awful sludge would distract me. I got there and saw her standing with her back to me. Shocked, I just stood there, knowing she never drank those terrible dregs. She was moving slower than usual, with her head bowed, and I knew she hurt as bad as I did.
My arms automatically went around her, before I thought. She stiffened in surprise, and then relaxed into my embrace. Many times had we stood like this watching the surf, or lying together while we watched the stars. I held her as the trembling started, little mild ﬁts of heartbreak, knowing my own heartbreak mirrored hers. I murmured little comforts in her ear and hoped that she wouldn’t break down. I knew that if she did, I would too. It hadn’t been easy recently. I had received word that I was being transferred to a new ofﬁce at the behest of one of the bosses. I didn’t have to figure out which one. It was the same one who’d made a pass at her, months ago. His proposal, if you could call it that, had been quickly turned down. Maria and I looked long and hard for ways to keep me from having to go, but there wasn’t a way. I had to go.
We knew why he’d done it. He didn’t like the idea of fraternization at the workplace, but since he wasn’t the big boss, he couldn’t do much. . . until now. It had been set up and executed with all the skill and finesse of a jungle ambush. He wanted me out of the picture, so he could make another play. The other boss who didn’t approve, well, she’d helped him right along. They deserved each other.
Both of us had talked it over. We knew that with me on the other side of the world, our relationship wouldn’t survive. Oh, maybe it would, but it wouldn’t be the same. We had to have each other, hold each other, love each other. That wouldn’t have been possible from so far away. It had been with breaking hearts that we decided to call it quits. So many tears were shed, from anger and hurt, but we couldn’t think of a better way.
I stayed with her last night, saying goodbye. I knew I might never share her bed and her love again, and I didn’t want it to end. She knew that, and welcomed me. Maria didn’t want it to end either. We knew then that today would be so hard, but neither of us could call in sick. I couldn’t do that, because I’d be leaving in the evening and didn’t want to just sit around all day. I was already packed. She couldn’t, because of a recent ﬂu bug had used up all the sick time she had. The only consolation, if you could call it that, was that I’d leave before she got off. She wouldn’t have to see me go, then.
Her trembling eased off, but mine was still there. I was so angry, at that boss, at the world, at my loss. She turned, snuggling into my shoulder, saying she loved me. That made me feel better and worse at the same time, but my trembling receded a little. I softly kissed her lips, not caring who was there to see it, and broke the hug. As much as I loved her, I couldn’t take it. I still kept her hand, though, and she understood.
I decided against the coffee, so I walked to the drink machines and got a bottle of apple juice. She came with me, since I was still holding her hand, and we shared a companionable silence. Distantly, my mind registered that the conversation level had dropped every time we were together, but then again, I understood. They cared for us, and I had been told more than once that they had been so happy when we got together. Apparently, the women in the ofﬁce had been pushing her toward me, and the men had done the same for me.
A slight stir alerted me to the fact that the woman who’d help break us up had entered. She saw us standing together and started to come our way. I kissed my lover on her forehead, and stood erect as the boss approached. The now-empty bottle of apple juice seemingly fell of its own accord into a trashcan. I didn’t trust myself to say anything to the woman, so I simply stared at her.
She tried to act as though she didn’t know of any “special” circumstances, or as though the air of gloom wasn’t there. I could tell that she fed on it. She started to go on about not working like I should, no “sense of urgency,” and other things. I didn’t say anything, but modiﬁed my stare into a cold, clear, and penetrating gaze. I looked her in-the eye and very soon she ﬁgured out that I knew what she’d done.
She broke off and walked off in the opposite direction, hastily. I didn’t know where to, and didn’t care. Someone else broke off, too, and followed her. I turned back to my lover, but she wasn’t there. I sighed and turned to go back to my desk, to start cleaning it out.
As I started to do that, people ﬁgured it out. The office mom came over and hugged me, having seen everything and quite capable of ﬁguring it out. She whispered in my ear that she was so sorry for both of us, and that she’d go ﬁnd her and keep her occupied when I left. I nodded, unable to speak. I had a steady stream of visitors then, who tried as hard as they could to support me the best they knew. I was touched, so appreciative.
Soon, my time was almost up. I put my stuff into a bag, and closed the desk’s drawer. It didn’t look like mine anymore, just a piece of office furniture. I arose and walked to the head manager’s ofﬁce. He was a good friend of mine, and I didn’t want to leave witl1out saying goodbye. I found him there with a miserable expression on his face. He stood, took my hand, and told me to sit down. He said he was sorry to see me go, and wished he could do something to keep me here.
Then he dropped a bomb.
He told me he found out about the transfer the two others had cooked up, and like us, had tried to ﬁnd a way to nullify it but couldn’t. He did ﬁnd a way to have ﬁred, with prejudice, the man who’d drafted it but it would take time and he couldn’t do it himself or immediately. The woman I’d stared down would take time to get rid of. I gaped at him. He had in effect declared a vendetta on that woman and a jihad on the man. I didn’t know what to say, but I did feel satisfaction.
A knock on the door interrupted us, and he got up to open the door. The office mom came in with her arms around my lover, and prompted her to speak. She paused, unsure, but said she wanted to say goodbye. My friend raised his eyebrow.
A little exasperated, she snapped, “I want to kiss him goodbye, and I don’t want everyone watching!”
He nodded, as if he expected that, and he hustled out the door with the other woman. The door closed, and I looked at her. Suddenly, we were in each other’s arms, and so desperately we kissed, so passionately, I thought would drown in her; I could feel her tears falling and my own streaking down my face. Time passed, without any thought from us. ‘ The kiss ended, leaving me light—headed. She gazed at me, teary-eyed, and turned and ran out the door. I didn’t follow her. It was hard enough on me to see her in the same pain as me. I sat in the swivel chair, staring out at the bay. My friend’s hand on my shoulder brought me back. It was a few minutes before I could look up at him.
“I don’t want to go.” He nodded.
“I don’t blame you.”
“Tell her to wait for me.” Again, he nodded.
“I will. Cherie and I will look after her for you.”
I sat there, still. He stood there, not being my boss, until I was ready to get up. Soon, I did. I walked out of his ofﬁce, and picked up my bag. He was right behind me. As I walked out onto the main ﬂoor, silence reigned. 1 stopped, and my friend stopped to my left. I looked around, and saw her at my desk, surrounded by others. We held our gaze for a long time, until she turned away. I didn’t want her to watch me go, and I went. I heard her crying softly as she turned away, but I couldn’t stop. I made it out, barely, but the tears on my face wouldn’t stop.