Chapter One: Something New
I woke up for work in the same way I usually do, an alarm going off at 5:45 a.m. and my lights gradually illuminating my room. The fancy programmed lighting was a hesitant gift from my parents who thought it would be a good thing for me to wake with the sunrise, even if it was artificial and computer-generated.
They were both health-nut granola folk from the mountains who thought I would drive myself insane if I sat in front of a computer all day. However, as a writer, I can’t avoid a screen or two, nor do I want to. I have always been more tech-savvy than both of my parents, and it has been an uphill battle getting to do what I want under their roof. Thankfully, I am now living on my own in a downtown apartment in the heart of a bustling city and not in their Amish cabin in BFE.
I rolled out of bed to make it into the shower, positive not to get behind schedule. I could feel the tired wash away with every lather of soap I swiped across my body. Within 15 minutes, I was more than awake.
I finished the rest of my morning routine at lightning speed, as usual. I’ve had my mornings down to a science since middle school. I start my day with a shower, then makeup and brushing teeth, then putting on the outfit I set out the night before. If I was especially quick, I would have time for breakfast, but not today. I needed to be in the office early because I had a pitch meeting at work. Being late could throw a hammer at everything I’ve spent the last six months on.
I sprinted through my apartment complex with just enough time to make it onto the bus. I greeted the bus driver and collapsed into a seat. 6:30. Perfect timing. I looked out the window to take my daily look at the city around me. Atlanta was always awake before I was, so I got to see the whole city during their commutes to work.
Not before long, my stop had come, and I was met with my building. It wasn’t a particularly tall skyscraper, compared to some of the other buildings, but it still looked like it touched the sky above. With one deep breath to calm my nerves, I headed inside.
With one swift motion, I pulled out my badge from my jacket pocket and waved it toward the front desk attendant, though I’m sure he knew who I was without me proving that I worked in the building. I slipped into the elevator before it closed and rode the long trek to the 14th floor. Riding the elevator was my least favorite part of my day simply due to standing beside strangers with our shoulders touching. It was just as crowded as music festivals but at a fraction of the area and surprisingly more uncomfortable body smells.
Once I got to my floor, I was happy to see my colleagues ready for our meeting. It was nice to know that my punctuality was not just appreciated but also reciprocated.
“Sora, good morning. We are excited to hear what you have planned.” My boss handed me a coffee as I entered the conference room.
At work, I have pitched six successful ideas to my bosses within my first year at my job. It was a record number, and it was all thanks to my insatiable need to have new projects to work on and my addiction to receiving recognition for hard work. Today, I am going for number seven, my lucky number.
I set up my presentation, and I was ready to blow them away.
“That’s a wonderful idea, but I’m not sure if it is something we should be focused on right now.”
I felt my head throb with every word. I have been rejected before, but I hate it more each time. I thanked each boss for their time and ushered myself out of the room. I practically sprinted to my desk to avoid the possibility of anyone seeing vulnerability on my face.
Once I reached the comfortable threshold of my desk, I fell into my chair and threw my face in my hands.
For a second, I thought I was hearing my inner monologue in real life, but it came from across the wall of my cubicle.
He knocked his glass water bottle off the table, and it hit the ground. Shards of glass mixed with iced tea covered the floor beneath our desks. He immediately shot up, looked at the mess, then me, then the mess again. He opened his mouth to speak, but after a quick consideration for the growing puddle on the ground, he ran to the bathroom instead.
I reached into one of my desk drawers to grab a handful of napkins to help with the spill. I placed a few in the puddle and started trying to collect the tea while also carefully dodging glass. My pointed foot danced circles in the tea, making a small effort to collect as much liquid as I could.
He returned with an armful of brown paper towels to finish the job. He was less careful about the glass shards, most likely due to embarrassment and the need to clean up the spill as quickly as he could. I could tell he was humiliated because a cherry red stain cascaded across the sharp features on his face.
“I’m so sorry,” he said while continuing to clean. His face remained fixated on the spill, maybe too embarrassed to let the world see.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m fine.” I smiled, but he never looked up to see. “It happens all the time here. I’m sure no one cares that much.”
He looked up. The inner parts of his eyebrows stayed raised. From the top half of his face, worry remained to dictate his emotions, but the lower half allowed a small smirk to form. It seemed as if his face did not know how to pick an expression, but his boyish clumsiness let a small laugh stir in my chest.
“You think you’ve got it from here?” I gestured to the sticky residue left from the tea spill.
“Yeah. I think I do.” He got off the floor and headed back to the bathroom.
My eyes followed him. How long has he worked here? I never even knew when he had arrived. His desk was always occupied, yet I don’t remember any conversations with him. Typically, I did not pay much attention to my coworkers unless I needed to consult them on something. More often than not, I prefer to work alone. Nonetheless, I now knew this stranger who I’d been sitting across. I never noticed it before, but I had never formally introduced myself. Did someone ever introduce us? I tried to rack my brain to think of a time when I could have said something to him. Maybe we’ve said a passing greeting in the elevator or the kitchen. He sits right across from me, yet today was the first day I realize that he existed.
And now we’ve met.