I didn't call sick or anything, because I wasn't sick or anything. I went to work like I do every day. I got out of the lift and headed for my desk.
Everybody was staring.
I didn't have to meticulously look around and I'm certainly not paranoid. It wasn't in the air, it wasn't something I ate. It was etched on everybody's face. They knew.
Well, so be it. If they think it was something I'd been hiding and now I have to come out clean with, well, they're wrong. It's something new. It's something newly-found. The whole situation is as novel to them as it is to me. I'll get accustomed to it in my own sweet time and they'd better follow suit.
Meanwhile everybody's staring.
I flash my "good-morning" smile to everyone I cross paths with, I check the message-board, my mind is set to "work" mode. I don't pretend to act normal, I really do act normal and hope it'll be another normal day at work.
I sit at my desk, turn my laptop on, wait for it to boot. I look around. They aren't staring at me now or at least I believe they don't. They act normal, too. Or at least I believe they don't pretend to.
The laptop's on. Good. Some work will take my mind off it all. Now, if I was to let my memory wander back to last night, oh, I wouldn't be able to type one word. I'd caress the keyboard, stroke the back of the mouse, keep my eyes on the monitor unfocused while I'd reminisce one sweet moment of me and Luce together after another…
No sleeping on the job, Rach!
Right! I start reading articles to be reviewed… "The Right Honorable Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Dr. Meredydd Hennessy…"
…our first kiss in the midst of the traffic jam… We took it slow and easy… well, under the circumstances. We first held each other's beloved face, then slowly reached for each other's mouth…
No day-dreaming on the job, Rachel darling!
Sorry! Where was I?... Yes, "…Dr. Meredydd Hennessy was awarded with the Medal of the City of…"
…we went to my apartment, the rush of the day left behind, but, oh, my, how swiftly we took our clothes off and…
All right, all right… Where was I? Right, another normal day at work.
But is it?
Zina comes towards me carrying some documents. She leaves them on my desk. An awkward moment, she does it thirty times a day, but today, it feels different. It's as if all goes slo-mo, it's as if my mind is divided, one part always monitoring the other. The other… So, I'm not one person anymore. Or is it that the old me is gradually fading away, while the other is taking over? Am I paranoid, after all?
I'm reaching for the papers, but her finger is still on them. Only yesterday I'd assume she was pointing at a specific passage, but now I think she does it on another purpose. No, it's not paranoia, but my brain has to process so many new things that inevitably it functions over the red line. This pointing finger is something I have to process, too. I raise my eyes, look at her.
I was wrong again. There's nothing different in her eyes. Her face is absolutely straight and businesslike. But, two seconds later, a query forms itself on her features. Damn, I caused it. I quickly try to avert my eyes, but she's faster. She has every excuse to ask, now that I led her on.
"So… how was Norway?" she asks quite casually, smiling gently. It's not really a question, rather a re-hash of that joke she made some days ago, but I turn to face her again. Yes, there's definitely a lot being reflected on my face, but what, I don't know. But, thing is, her smile vanishes little by little, she squints, she then glares at me. "Sorry I asked" says annoyedly, turns her back on me and goes off. The whole office is watching. I turn to my monitor, the safest place to look at. My God, what's happening to me.
It's crazy. When I have to go to another office, to the ladies', wherever, my eyes are downcast, which is so unlike me. Why, what's happening? Has someone a remote aimed at me, controlling me? I almost rub shoulders with my colleagues and pretend they're not there. I think I also might have failed to respond to someone's calling my name or waving at me. Is this what's gonna be happening? For how long? Forever?
And when Beth comes towards me, for the first time today, I feel it. She's my closest friend and her closeness, her nearness even, I'd always cherished. Now, it feels crowded. I'm near the window, there's no escaping her, there's no escaping it. I turn around and face her. With her cold stare she looks the part of an elder sister, or even aunt, admonishing.
"So, that's what that talk was about… You wanted to double your chances… for my sake?". "Beth…" I start saying. "Friends share" she smirks, interrupting me. "Friends tell the truth. Friends feel for their friends" she ends her short preaching, giving me a cold shoulder.
I'm close to desperation, but then I remember this morning, how I woke up, next to Luce, after a night of love, of indescribably sweet loving. How I kissed her eyes open and then her mouth and then all her sweet spots in a row. How she wordlessly embraced me, reassuringly, and how truer I felt after the last tormenting days, their culmination being Heck's departure. And that was only yesterday, yet it seems so far away.
I brace up. I've chosen all of this, I was not hurled into it by some gigantic supernatural force, as Hector had argued, so I'm not going to be fatalistic. I'll be positive-minded and optimistic. That's like me.
And now I can cool off. I must cool off, so that my message reaches them directly. No hints, no innuendos, not being afraid to "get out of the closet". Damn, what a stupid phrase, why should an open society have closets? Closets, indeed! I've kissed Luce in front of everybody, I've mounted Dad's car shouting at the top of my voice, my, what a stunt, and now I blush at the thought of re-stating my love?
I deliberately walk towards the centre of the office. I stand there firmly, I cross my arms, I stare around me. Ten seconds pass. Twenty. Gradually I attract their sight. They pause and look at me, expectingly. Expectantly. I draw my breath.
"Have I told you?" I shout out with an elan I didn't know I possessed. "I'm in love. I really am in love. And I love you all, too!"
I only stand for a second more. It was not my intention to cause a stir but I wanted their full attention for a moment, to let them know I'm dead serious. It might not help to put a gag on the gossip or to change their new attitude towards me, but I had to say the words.
Silence still reigns. Then my friend Beth, my good friend Beth, starts applauding, a tender look in her eyes, silently apologizing for her former behaviour and words, nodding in assurance. One by one others followed, Zina, Mary, Julian, all of the department. I flash them one fond conciliatory smile and turn on my heel. The clapping sound grows louder, intermingled with cheers. I enter the lift.
And now I see it even more clearly. I see the people in the street smiling back at me, but how would they know? No, they wouldn't, they wouldn't know, it's not in the air. It's in me, etched on my face. I can't wait to tell Luce about it. I just can't.
But she's bound to already know, isn't she?