The view out of the seventh floor meeting room window was of skyscrapers against a backdrop of sky so cerulean that it looked like the ocean had changed places with the heavens. It would’ve been so much better to be out there in the beautiful spring weather. Perhaps riding around with the windows down, his favorite song pumping out of the speakers.
His phone suddenly buzzed on the table. He looked down and read the notification.
“I’m downstairs. Can you take a break?”
“You mind if I get out of here for a few minutes?”
“Sure thing. I’ll just keep working on this part while you’re gone,” the man said, not looking up from the laptop screen.
“Be there in a sec.” he texted.
The stairs were more effort to go down, but the elevator was a big risk. Two of them were broken, leaving only one to serve seven floors of employees. The last couple of times he’d taken it, the car had stopped on every floor up and every floor down. Completely unacceptable.
He took the stairs, bounding down at a faster than usual pace. Between the stuffy meeting room and talking to his sister outside under that magnificently blue, clear sky, he’d take the latter any day.
The air outside hit him like the smell of a fresh pie baking in the oven. He savored it, almost able to taste how much sweeter it was.
“What are you doing here in the middle of a weekday?”
“I called in sick this morning.”
“You’re so bad.”
Analyn chuckled. “Just a little bit. I mean, come on. It’s too beautiful outside to work today.”
Zane gazed up at the sky almost emotionlessly. “Yeah, you’re right about that.” Without looking down, he continued, “So what brings you to visit me at work?”
She held up a plastic container. “I was bored and made lunch. Spaghetti and meatballs. Thought I’d be nice and bring you some.”
“That’s the only way I make it.”
“Wow, awesome. Thank you!” Zane said, accepting the proffered container.
“Were you busy?”
“Nah. Just in some stupid meeting with a guy from another department. He doesn’t really need me.”
“Wanna go take a walk then?”
Zane glanced over his shoulder. “Sure, but I might have to duck into the bushes or something if my boss suddenly appears.”
“You don’t have to if you’re gonna get in trouble.”
He laughed. “Nah, it’ll be fine. I need a break anyway.”
They headed down the sidewalk toward the garden. There was an archway, and above it a sign lettered in Gothic font on a wooden base, painted black and forest green with gold filigree adorning the border of each character. It read “Towncenter Park,” the name of the business complex in which Zane’s employer rented its office space.
“You have any plans tonight?” Analyn asked.
“Nah, I’ll probably just be hanging around the house. You?”
Zane laughed. “We really need to make some friends.”
“We’d probably have more incentive to do that if we didn’t have built-in friends in each other.”
“Well if you wouldn’t have followed me here…”
“Oh, don’t start that again.”
Three years ago, Zane landed a new job – his current job – while at the same time, Analyn graduated from college and happened, only by coincidence, to get a job in the same city. It was the second closest major city to where they grew up, but still a good three hour drive. It worked out well though, in that they had the ability to pool their resources and rent a nice house in a good, safe neighborhood that was not close, but not particularly far from where either of them worked.
“We should try going out to a club or something instead of sitting around tonight,” Zane said as they passed under the floral arch.
“It’s so hard to make friends in a club, though. Too much noise.”
“Haven’t you made any friends at work yet?”
“No, they still haven’t replaced Dan.”
“After two years?”
“Yeah. I’m still the entire department.” Zane brushed his hand against the velvelty petal of an amaryllis.
“Oh, that sucks. I thought I’d heard you mention another person you worked with.”
“Yeah,” Analyn said.
“She’s just a lady from accounting that has a bit of a crush on me. I don’t work closely with her, though.” Zane paused, then continued, “What’s your excuse for not having made any friends at work?”
“Still no one my age,” she said. “I mean, I like my coworkers, but they’re all in their mid-40s and married with kids and responsibility and stuff. They don’t have time to hang out.”
“Guess it’s just me and you then.”
Without looking at Zane, Analyn nodded. “It’s not so bad though. Either of us could be alone in this city.”
“Yeah. I guess it’s also lucky that we get along pretty well.”
Analyn laughed and took an extra long step to avoid a crack in the sidewalk. Overhead, they could hear the sound of a helicopter’s rotors fluttering as it raced across the sky like a supercharged ant – black silhouette against blue sky, all details hidden by the intensity of the sun.
“I guess I probably need to head back to work,” Zane said.
They circled around the garden and back down the Towncenter Park sidewalk. The helicopter was almost out of view, but Zane could still just barely make out the deceivingly small dot in the sky that represented something like two tons of metal and plastic.
“Thanks again for the food,” Zane said, holding up the container.
“See you tonight.” He hugged her.
Zane took one last breath of the fresh, sweet air and headed back inside. He exhaled, then inhaled some of the stale air in the lobby of the building.
He looked up and saw Wendy from human resources.
“She was beautiful. Girlfriend?” Wendy said.
“No. My sister.”
“Oh, that’s Analyn?”
“Yeah. She came to bring me some food.” Zane held up the container.
“How nice of her,” Wendy smiled. “You should’ve brought her in and let us meet her.”
“Sorry, maybe another time. It completely slipped my mind.” Zane flashed a smile and continued to the stairs. It was a long climb back up to the seventh floor, so he took it easy. No point in getting all tired or out of breath just to get back to a boring meeting.
His conversation with Analyn lingered in his mind as he climbed. It was true that neither of them had made friends. In high school, they’d each had plenty of friends. They were pleasant people to be around, or so he thought, but the problem seemed to be more in meeting the right people.
Zane had usually been pretty good at being able to figure people out, too. He could tell when his sister was annoyed, and furthermore, he knew better than to do anything to exacerbate the condition. People used to come to him in high school when they had problems, when they just needed someone to talk to. Not necessarily for advice, just when they needed a friendly set of ears and a warm pair of eyes. There were lots of times when he wanted to offer advice because he empathized or sympathized so well with whatever issue the person had, but he held his tongue.
His entire world had almost been defined by that trait. It’s how people knew him, and it was all lost when he moved. Without that reputation, he was just another normal guy trying to fit in with the world around him.
When he reached the fifth floor, the muscles in his legs were starting to complain. Zane considered this and silently wished the elevators would be fixed soon.
By the seventh floor, he was breathing heavily but knew he’d recover quickly. He stared at the door that would lead him back into the hall that ended at the meeting room. Being able to see the beautiful view again would be nice, but it would only serve to make him envious of his sister. She got to be out there under that sky, and he had to be inside, behind glass and metal and concrete and plaster.
Zane pulled out his phone and started writing a text to Analyn. “We’re going out somewhere tonight. No complaints,” it said. He reread it and pressed ‘send.’
Satisfied, he took a step toward the door, smiled, and said, “We’ll make friends somehow. I promise, Analyn.”