She was ambushed in the break room. After working so hard to avoid him (at least until she figured herself out), she ran into him in the break room, of all places, of the floor above theirs, as if he’d been trying to avoid her too. The moment she saw him standing there in all his lankiness in front of the vendor, she, like game of prey, panicked. Ruffling her feathers, she tried to backtrack, but the thing about prey was that they only ever wanted to fly away once their feet had been caught in the net. Leaving after he’d seen her would only mean admitting to evasion, and though it was something understood between the two, she wasn’t yet ready to acknowledge. So she stayed.
She stood silently behind him and waited for him to finish. He stood silently in front of her and waited for her to speak. The tense silence bowed under the weight of their expectations. It creaked and groaned, making their legs shake and their hands tremble until he finally caved in.
“I was offered a promotion.”
“It’s a bit early for that, I would say,” he said softly. The coins in his hand jingled until his fist closed over them. No trembling for them. “I haven’t accepted yet.”
He could feel her surprise on his goosebumps. It felt like a second skin on him so attuned had he become to her.
“…It’s for the new branch.”
The temperature in the room seemed to drop, and C.C. felt her lungs deflate slowly, slowly, slowly until she was struggling for breath. She winced under the unbearable pressure; her poor lungs.
“…I’d been meaning to tell you, but I suppose now is as good a time as any.”
Like a child, she desperately grabbed for any words that had the misfortune of floating by, and like a child, she grabbed the wrong words.
“…They’re going to release him next week.”
His shoulders drifted down; she realized for the first time how high they had been. Since when had they been up there? When in her absence had they crawled all the way up there to his ears? For how long had he lived, forcing those burdened shoulders to that height? But most importantly, why had he? Why hadn’t he just let her go? She wasn’t that special. She couldn’t be that important for him to cling like that even with the weight.
“No, I understand.” The words sounded breathy, almost as if he felt winded too. The sound of the coins slipping into the slot grated against her ears before they crashed into another man’s pocket. “I understand. It’s alright.”
She stared at him as he bent down to pick up his snack, and braced herself for when he would inevitably walk past her and show her his face. Afraid of what the sight would do to her – afraid of the regret that would come pouring in – she closed her eyes. She could feel the weight of her tears leaving her lashes, but she closed them anyway. She’d rather cry like a child than see that understanding look on his face. She didn’t think she could live with herself if she saw it.
“It’ll be alright,” he said softly. “Don’t worry, C.C. If not now, then soon. One day.” He pressed something into her hands and then onto her lips. He carefully wiped the tears on her cheeks, both his and hers, before taking the 10 most difficult steps he had or ever would take in his life and left her in the empty room with nothing to remind her of him than a small bag of golden pretzels and his patient understanding.