Not too bad, I thought, as I surveyed my new office. A floor to ceiling window must mean I’m moving up in the world, even if it does look straight into the building next door. There was a flashy new one mere metres away. Still, our offices were pretty nice. Corporate law had its perks.
My computer faced the wall, with the window to my right, lined by another long desk. I settled in, unpacking folders of documents into the shelves behind me and hanging my spare black blazer in the cupboard. I placed my to-do list note pad on the desk, sighed at the already long list scrawled on it and plugged in my laptop.
Settle into new office: tick. Time to get down to some lawyering.
I spent the next few hours replying to emails and briefing juniors. It was a nice reminder that I wasn’t a junior anymore. How novel! It took ’til 31 but I finally felt like I kind of knew what I was doing. I had my shit together…a bit.
As afternoon fell, I scooted my chair over to the desk at the window and set myself up for a session of reviewing documents. I shuffled through the pile of reports and contracts I had printed, choosing a short one to get started.
Huh, I actually have a water glimpse from here, I thought and felt rather good about it. I armed myself with a highlighter and started reading, but it wasn’t long until I found myself staring aimlessly out the window at my new view. My water glimpse glistened every time the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and I could see the street fourteen floors below. Absent-mindedly, my eyes drifted over the building looming over me next door. It was all glass; shiny and new. A floor up, twenty people sat in a conference room around a large table, some manager droning on with a presentation. The head of the guy with his back to the window kept lolling up and down, more obviously each time. The lady next to him giggled and elbowed him in the ribs.
A consultancy firm’s front desk was visible a couple of floors below. Above it, a large open plan area was bustling with people. It still looked too pristine – the grey industrial carpet unstained, the desks a little too uncluttered. On my level, the logo of a rival law firm was emblazoned across the screens of the meeting rooms at the corner of the building to my left, overlooking the water. The rest of the floor was divided into offices similar to my own. Half were empty. Probably working from home or in court.
Then, movement caught my eye in the office directly across from me. A young man walked into the office…A handsome young man. He had short dark hair and a square jaw. He was wearing charcoal suit pants with a light blue shirt. He started unloading things from a box on the desk and putting them away. Obviously unpacking, like me. All the big city law firms were on the same schedule – graduates starting in the same week, people being promoted. The annual reshuffle. His office had a similar configuration to mine too: computer facing the wall and an extra desk at the window.
Shit. Look away, Nat, I told myself. Don’t be some staring weirdo. It was a bit hard to miss, though. He was literally a few metres away from me, fourteen floors in the air, framed perfectly by the window.
I focused back on my work, still aware of his movement in my peripheral vision.
“Damn,” said Maddy, when she appeared at my door late that afternoon. She was my best friend at the office. She was a couple of years younger than me and pretty much had no filter.
“My digs aren’t too shabby, huh?” I said, swirling around on my chair to greet her at the door with a big grin.
“Not at all,” she replied, plonking herself down on my spare chair. “Oh, and the view’s not bad either.”
She nodded at the window behind me and waggled her eyebrows.
“Maddy, you’re terrible,” I said but couldn’t quite stop myself smiling.
“You were thinking it,” she said.
“Maybe,” I admitted. “But don’t be obvious about it! Technically, it’s probably sexual harassment or something.”
“Is it, if you’re literally in different workplaces at the time?”
“I don’t know…Interesting legal question,” I replied.
“Don’t try to change the topic on me, missy! I bet you could find him on social media,” she said.
“I am not going to internet stalk him, Maddy!” I insisted.
“Alright, alright,” she said. Then after a short pause, “but let me know if you want me to do it for you.”
She gave me a teasing shove on the shoulder and I laughed.
Maddy was in a long-term relationship and seemed to make a hobby of encouraging my love life. I didn’t mind really. I’d always been shy and serious and probably needed the push, if I was honest with myself.
“Where’s your new office?” I asked.
“I’m just around the corner,” she said, pointing. “Nice and close!”
“Great!” I said. “I’ll swing by so often you’ll get sick of me.”
“Never,” she cooed. “Besides, you have incentive to stay right here and make eyes at the boy next door. Maybe I’ll come visit you instead.”
“Shut up,” I said, and my voice went to a far higher pitch than I meant it to. Mercifully, she ignored it.
“Lunch tomorrow?” she asked.
“You got it.”
“Alright, back to lawyering,” she said as she flounced out the door.
The next morning, I arrived and turned on my laptop without a thought. Work seemed just like usual, except I enjoyed the warmth of the sun streaming in through my new window.
An hour or so into the day, I was replying to some emails, when I had that strange feeling of being watched. Instinctively, I looked out my window over my right shoulder and saw the young man look down at something on his desk. I hadn’t noticed he was in.
Must be a coincidence, I thought. I’m imagining it.
I continued answering emails. But the feeling continued – a weird little nagging, the feeling of eyes on my cheek. I looked up again and caught him turning away, pulling out his phone. I felt my cheeks flush.
Don’t be silly, I thought. He’s just working there. You’re practically in his line of sight. It’s just hard to avoid.
I surveyed him for a minute as he tapped away at his phone. He faced the window, wearing a white shirt and navy pants. His short hair was neatly – but not too neatly – parted to the side. He sat tall, his shoulders broad and pulled back. It reminded me to fix my own posture. I wriggled and sat up in my chair. A cup of coffee sat near his left hand on the desk.
He looked up.
I looked away, probably way too obviously trying to be busy.
Why am I freaking out? He looked first, I thought.
I looked intently at my computer, frantically clicking on things. A few moments passed before I snuck the quickest of glances away from my computer in his direction. He had turned to stare at his computer too, his back still dead straight. But in his profile, I saw the hint of a smile.
I straightened my glasses and took a sip of tea. Back to work, now.
Things continued much the same for the next few weeks: accidental glances, even the odd bashful smile. I noticed he rolled up his sleeves in the afternoons, donned a pair of black-rimmed glasses some days.
One Monday morning, we arrived at the same time. He nodded good morning to me as I placed my laptop bag and handbag down on my desk. I smiled and nodded back, then, tucked my hair behind my ear in a subconscious nervous tick which I only noticed because Maddy had pointed it out to me before. Uh, she’s right.
That week was a busy one. On the Wednesday, long after dusk fell, I walked back into my office after a meeting and landed hard on my chair. I was nowhere near done for the day. I sighed loudly as I spun around and I noticed the light on across the way. He was still there too and looked up when I appeared at my desk by the window. He patted the face on his watch and tilted his head, as if to ask, “what are you doing here so late?”
I picked up a huge binder of documents I still had to review and flicked through the pages while shaking my head.
He nodded, gestured to his laptop and then mimed shooting himself. I chuckled and tucked my hair behind my ear. He laughed and flashed a broad – albeit brief – smile. Then, we both buried ourselves in our work. Still, it felt a little less lonely with his light on. Around 10pm, I left. He was sitting back in his chair with his fingers laced behind his head and his brow furrowed deep in concentration. He seemed to do that when he was really tired, or perhaps when he really needed to concentrate.
Another late Friday night a week or two later, we both found ourselves in our respective offices, drinks in hand. We raised our glasses at each other and took a swig. A five o’clock shadow darkened his chin and his eyes looked tired, but his smile was still warm and wide.
The next week, Maddy walked in while we were saying good morning and gave him a wave. He replied with a friendly nod and graciously, pretended not to see Maddy’s obvious excited questioning which followed.
Later that night, she clambered on top of my spare desk, sticky tape in her teeth and attempted to stick a piece of paper to my window with my phone number on it.
“Don’t you dare!” I cried, ripping it away from her.
I examined the paper; she’d scrawled my name in bold letters and added a huge arrow pointing to me.
“You two are so cute, though,” she protested. “You should make a move!”
I was too timid to do any such thing. “Honestly, I’m just enjoying some innocent fun,” I told her.
But when he was suddenly replaced by a new occupant in his office, I wondered if maybe I should have taken her advice.
My office felt lonelier, quieter and more boring, without him. Sometimes, I looked up, expecting him to be there, and saw his unfriendly middle-aged replacement instead. The late nights were painfully worse. His office was blackened, the lights automatically asleep. I was left with the distant murmuring of the city fourteen floors below. I missed watching him roll up his sleeves in the afternoon and scrunch his eyes when things were difficult.
Maddy took me out for drinks at the bar downstairs the next Friday night.
Eventually, a couple of wines in, she said, “you miss him, don’t you?”
“Ah,” I sighed. “Yeah, kind of.” I took a swig of my drink and avoided eye contact.
“You could still look him up, you know,” she said.
“I’m sure he was just being friendly,” I replied and shrugged it off.
“He was very friendly and who wouldn’t be glad to hear from you!”
“What would I say anyway? ‘Hey, not to be a creep but it sucks that I can’t stare at you from my office anymore and somehow I feel I’ve formed a better connection with you through two panes of glass and some sign language than I do with most people, so I obviously have great social skills. Wanna hang?’”
She hummed doubtfully. “You have great social skills and I think this would be an amazing story to tell your grandkids, but I’ll stop pushing.”
She rubbed the back of my hand on the bar table for a moment as I took another drink.
“Well, I’d better get home to the boyfriend,” Maddy declared.
“Thanks for drinks,” I said.
“Just promise you’ll think about it,” she whispered as we hugged goodbye.
I headed back up to my office to get my handbag. I always left it there when I went to drinks downstairs so I didn’t have to carry it all night. I watched the floors whizz past through the glass elevator as I leant against the elevator wall.
Ding – fourteenth floor.
I smiled at the cleaners on my way in and shuffled down to my office at the far end of the floor. Sluggishly, I unplugged my laptop and turned towards the window to grab my laptop bag. I sighed as I slid the laptop into it and looked from the dark empty office opposite me to the sparkly water glimpse in the distance.
Then, something caught my eye. I leant forward a little more and looked down towards the water, expecting there to be some Friday night cruise with lights and dancing. But as I peered at the rippling water, there was movement again at my level and my gaze shifted.
Standing in the corner meeting room of the building next door, was my former office buddy, waving his arms over his head and jumping up and down on the balls of his feet.
I had to do a double take. Am I actually going crazy now? I thought, scowling and shaking my head. I didn’t have that much wine. But as my eyes caught his, he stopped jumping and beamed at me.
I gave him a little wave. He threw his palms up and mouthed, “wait.” Then, with his pointer finger in the air, “one second!”
He darted out of the meeting room and disappeared from my sight for a second. Moments later, I saw him dash along the hallway, momentarily visible, then hidden as he passed each office, before finally appearing in his own former office, just across from me.
The lights eased on as he entered. He waved at me. He was panting, his shoulders moving up and down quickly, but he didn’t try to hide it.
“Hi,” I mouthed, tucking my hair behind my ear again.
Then, he motioned, “one second,” again, and grabbed a piece of paper and a marker. He scrawled across the paper on the desk by the window and slammed it against the glass.
I’ve missed seeing you, it said. He peeked out from behind the page, a slight blush blooming on his cheeks.
“Me too,” I mouthed.
We just beamed at each other for a moment. I could see his shoulders slowing.
“Drinks?” he mimed, with a tiny shrug and raised eyebrows.
“Okay,” I nodded firmly. “Downstairs?” I suggested, pointing downwards.
He gave me a thumbs up and waited as I gathered my things. When I indicated I was ready, we threw coy little waves at each other over our shoulders and exited our offices.
Moments later, I smoothed my skirt and took a deep breath as the elevator rushed downwards. I stepped out of the elevator and spotted him waiting, just outside the glass doors to my building, hands clasped in front of him. His eyes followed me as I gripped the cool silver door handle and edged outside.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m Nat.”
“Sebastian,” he replied. “It’s so nice to finally meet you.”
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