Sona Perera felt a bothersome sense of disquiet, a feeling that there was some set of loose ends she had left untied, some irksome misalignment in the otherwise perfect symmetry of her orderly life. Of course, an assortment of last-minute tasks awaited her before her departure, but they were trivial; they were not the problem. She couldn’t think what on earth it could be that made her feel there was one final significant thing she must attend to before she left; some remaining unfulfilled desire she must realize.
It was Sona’s last day at Hunter Technical Group. At 10:14 the next morning, she would be on a flight to New York, where she would begin the next chapter of her life at NYU studying for a Master’s in Human Resources Management. Being a Human Resources assistant at Hunter just didn’t satisfy Sona’s ambitions; she wanted to lead her own department, ideally at a much bigger and more exciting company. And who knew…maybe she would also happen to meet a guy at NYU.
As Sona cleared away the last of the papers and knick knacks off her desk, she heard a musical knock on the wall of her cubicle. Leaning casually against the entryway was Trey, Senior Manager of technical services. Sona felt her face flush.
“Hey there!” she said, trying not to sound flustered. She didn’t know why, but Trey always had that effect on her.
Actually, she did know why.
Trey had the thoughtful, collected mien of a grown man, but the charm of a cheeky school boy. His dark hair was swept in a perfect natural wave to the side, with the exception of a single curling lock that fell into one of his dancing gray eyes. And, of course, he was off-limits.
Hunter had a very strict policy against office relationships and romantic entanglements, particularly after an ill-fated office romance several years back in which the spurned lover attempted to set fire to the building. Sona verified the office relationships policy each year by studying the annual Employee Handbook. It was clear she would not meet a man at work. Especially not as a Human Resources assistant.
“Last day, huh?” Trey asked. “Why do you hate us, Sona? What did we ever do to you?” He feigned a dramatic sulk.
Sona smiled. “Oh, you know. You were just generally awful.”
Trey sighed. “Generally. But we had our moments, no?” He beamed with such good-natured sincerity that Sona felt her heartbeats shuffle as she remembered all of the times Trey had stopped outside of her cubicle to chat.
Their “moments” flashed through her mind like an old-timey film reel – awkward laughs, goofy grins, small talk about their weekends and TV shows and office news – conversations that were light and seemingly superficial, but which were charged with some undefined energy, some buzzing beneath-the-surface chemistry that wouldn’t, couldn’t emerge. So often, Sona had wanted to leap away from the safe pleasantries and harmless banter, leap instead into the dark chasm of human emotion and gritty life lessons and all of the thousands of tiny idiosyncrasies that made them tick. But she didn’t. Some invisible barrier had prevented her. And so she kept it light and friendly, professional.
“I should get back to work,” Trey said as his cell phone buzzed. “But I’ll catch you at Happy Hour, yeah? Tell me you’re coming to Happy Hour. It’s your last day, after all.”
Sona had a million things to do before her flight tomorrow morning – last-minute packing and errands and minor logistical arrangements, among other tasks.
“I’ll be there,” she said.
* * *
Sona allowed herself to get quite tipsy at Happy Hour (which was, in fact, the name of the bar). As Trey had said, it was her last day, after all. She made the rounds, joking and laughing with each of her co-workers. A delightfully fizzy feeling buoyed her, and she floated from person to person in a cloud of cleverness and charm. Sona had never before been so articulate and glib, had never before shot back a pithy retort to every jest nor offered up elegantly worded compliments in such an enchanting manner. But she now felt free and able to be so, to do so. Everyone regarded her with surprised admiration, as though Sona had just ripped off a drone mask to reveal that she was actually the Queen Bee.
Everyone except Trey, who remained on the quieter side of the bar with a taking-care-of-business expression on his face as he composed an email on his phone. No matter; she would get to him soon. And then…and then perhaps she would say something she wouldn’t normally say, do something she couldn’t usually do. And then, perhaps, the bothersome feeling in the back of Sona’s mind would go away.
The crowd began to dwindle, and still, Trey did not join the group. Sona sipped at a vodka tonic and tried to retain her earlier feeling of invincibility as she spoke to the duller co-workers. But it was rather difficult to be charming when Maria Gonzales from Accounting began describing the daily habits of her three cats in excruciating detail, or when Bob Olsen from Technical Services, who was 20 years past retirement age, asked Sona a hundred questions, but spoke so…impossibly…slowly that it took several minutes to get out a single one.
Sona snuck furtive glances across the bar at Trey, wondering if he would eventually drift over on his own, or if she should just suck it up and interrupt him. But then, after a particularly…protracted…question from Bob, Sona looked back across the bar to find that Trey was no longer there. She scanned the rest of the room, but to no avail. Had Trey really left without saying goodbye?
An achy twinge, a dismal pang, throbbed within Sona. Inside she felt a wilting flower, a boarded-up door, the last page of a suspense novel torn and lost. Outside, she continued to smile and nod as Maria told her how Mr. Muffin pawed at a ball of yarn in precisely the same precious manner that he pawed at her face, then turned to reveal claw marks etched into her skin, smiling as though they were some endearing gift.
“Excuse me,” Sona said. “I need some air.” She stumbled toward the door, but upon noticing a dense crowd of newcomers there, she veered instead up the stairs and out onto the rooftop, which she was fairly sure was off-limits to random patrons, and sat on the gravel gulping the cool, oddly smoky, evening air.
She had no idea why she should react so intensely over a guy she barely knew beyond surface pleasantries. Perhaps it was the chance she mourned, that lost chance that held infinite possibilities ranging from magnificent to disastrous, but which she could now never define as one finite actuality.
Maybe it was better this way. After all, Sona would be on a flight across the country the next morning; everything would change. Yes; she was being silly, of course. It was a schoolgirl crush, that was all. Tomorrow would bring a whole new life; tomorrow held infinite possibilities, too, and Sona would have the chance to define her tomorrow, to realize its finite actuality.
“Fancy seeing you here.”
Startled, Sona scrambled to her feet and stared blankly at Trey. A plume of smoke curled out from his open mouth; ash dripped from his cigarette like faucet droplets. Sona despised smoke.
“So this is where you’d gone off to,” Sona said, narrowing her eyes at the offending cigarette.
“Filthy habit, I know.” Trey flashed one of his genuine do-gooder grins, and Sona could not resist smiling back. “I guess this is goodbye, then, is it?”
Sona looked at Trey, directly into his stone-gray eyes, and opened her mouth, a tightly wound ball of infinite possibilities ready to unfurl.