I stare at the computer screen trying to think of the perfect sentence that will sum up all the ideas from the presentation. Just one more paragraph and it will be done. Three weeks of hard work, countless hours of overtime. Mike already send his part of the business proposal, it’s great. Concise, but with enough detail to catch the client’s attention. We can actually win this. I’ll finally get the promotion I’ve been working for, for the last two years.
I manage to construct a sentence that doesn’t start with the phrase “in conclusion” and I smirk. Roger will be pleased. He knows good work when he sees it, and he’s a demanding boss. Some people can’t deal with that, but not me. You have to be tough to succeed in this business. I guess others just don’t understand that. Mike is different though. He’s like me, but with less experience.
All that’s left is one last spell check, and the presentation is good to go. Technically I could work on it through the weekend, or even on Monday, but since Mike sent his part today I have to send mine too. I draft up a short message to Roger, put Mike in CC, and sent the file. Now it’s time to solve another problem — getting home.
In retrospect, I should have left the office hours ago, when the sun was still out and snow was just starting to fall. I mean, I did hear the forecast. I knew there was a blizzard coming. Everybody else just packed up their laptops and left. Mike left about three hours ago, right after he finished his part of the proposal. It's incredible how he was able to finish it so quickly. He’s really dedicated. I decided to take all the time needed to make my presentation perfect. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus at home, so I stayed.
I check the public transportation app. The only bus that stops here shows a three-hour delay. I try Uber. No drivers are available in the area. An irritated hiss passes through my teeth. Is it really that bad? I stand up and open the window just in time to see the wind topple the office cafeteria sign and haul it violently through the empty street. The cold hits my face instantly and makes its way into my lungs. I close the window rapidly. That settles it. Walking is out of the question. I’m stuck here.
I check the email. The presentation is sent and I don’t expect to receive any feedback for at least a day. The only unopened message is the company’s newsletter. I never read those and I’m not going to start reading them now. The workday is officially over. I take a look around and see nobody. Am I really alone in the office? I notice Mike’s perfectly organized desk on the far left. To think that he takes time to clean it up every day. Incredible. Mine is always cluttered.
I walk up towards Mike’s desk. In the corner, there’s a framed picture of Mike and his girlfriend taken on vacation. She’s very pretty and they look madly in love. Was it Hawaii? It looks like Hawaii. Next to the picture stands a big, insulated cup that Mike always carries around in the office. I don’t think I ever saw him with a plastic cup or bottle. It’s so admirable of him to be this environmentally conscious.
With nothing left to do I stroll aimlessly around the office floor and make my way to the small kitchen, where I usually make coffee or tea and reheat meals in the microwave. I open the cabinet to see Mike’s yerba mate in the back. If I remember correctly he’s trying to cutting back on coffee and this is supposed to have the same effect. A thought passes my mind that maybe I should cut back on coffee too, but I ignore it and turn on the express. This will be my third coffee today. I’ve been so stressed out lately. Roger is going to announce the promotion soon, and I’m so close, I just know it. This presentation will decide everything. After I get the promotion I can drink decaf, or yerba, or some other herbal concoction, but not now. I reach for the milk but there is none in the fridge. The only thing I can see are lunches that people forgot to take home. Even Mike left his. I recognize the container. I think it’s a quinoa salad.
I slowly sip my bitter coffee and try to think about what to do with the next few hours. I take a few steps towards the corridor when something unusual catches my eye. The door to accounting is open. Normally they let you in with a buzzer, but somebody must have left it open by accident. I look around and hesitate for a second. Then I walk in. What’s the harm?
The first thing I notice is a big tray of cookies on a small table. Probably a peace offering from someone who forgot to log in their invoices on time. I grab one, take a bite, and walk lazily from desk to desk, snooping around. Nothing strikes me as particularly interesting. Some papers here, a few notebooks there. Then I stop at their pinboard and find a picture of all the accounting girls… with Mike. Are they in a dog pound? They’re all wearing the same shirts, huddled around a big dog, with food cans in their hands. I didn’t know Mike volunteered. That’s amazing. How does he find the time?
I grab one more cookie and leave the room. I circle back to the kitchen and head for the storage door right next to it. Unlocked. I turn on the light and enter. Immediately I curse under my breath. There’s milk on the bottom shelf. Why didn’t I think of that before? Right next to it lays a cardboard box labeled “Mike’s party”. Right, he has a birthday coming up. He’s younger than me by two years. I check what’s inside. It’s mostly packs of chips and a bottle of champagne. Champagne for an office birthday party? That’s a bit weird.
I take my time and explore the whole office. Some doors are closed, but I finally get to see what IT keeps in their server room (nothing interesting) and I even go to the women’s bathroom, just for kicks. Then I dare to go to one more place — Roger’s office. Roger takes all his meetings in conference rooms and never allows anyone in. It’s his private sanctuary. Now I stand right in front of it, my hand hovering over the handle. I’ll only take a peek. He shouldn’t be mad about that, right? The doors open with a soft click, and I step inside.
It's basically an office deluxe. The desk is bigger. Roger has a docking station and a monitor instead of a simple laptop. A big TEAMWORK motivational poster hangs on the wall. Then there’s a sofa, a minifridge, and a small bookcase. In the back, I can see another door, which I assume leads to a private bathroom. No wonder he almost never comes out to the open space. I lean down to examine the books when suddenly I notice a faint blue light reflected on the desk surface. I walk behind the desk and realize his mouse is lit up. Could it be? I nudge it slightly, and sure enough, the laptop in the station buzzes quietly and the white light of the monitor illuminates my face. I can’t believe it. Roger left his computer on. He didn’t log off. What’s worse, he must have left just as he was checking his email, because that’s what pops up on the monitor. And one title immediately catches my attention.
I shouldn’t. I’m breaking the company’s rules by doing this, not to mention it’s a violation of privacy. But really, what’s the harm? I’ll just find out that I’m getting promoted now instead of Monday. I’ll be able to sleep this weekend, and I’ll act surprised when they announce it. Nobody will ever know. So I double-click.
Out of the two candidates, I feel Mike is the obvious choice. Jon just doesn’t work that hard. I need someone who’s really in it to win it. I’ll announce Mike’s promotion on Monday. Have the champagne ready.
The window in the office is closed but I feel the cold again. But not on my face or in my lungs. It’s in my brain. It sensation overwhelms me for a minute. And then everything turns hot. I take a step back and fight the urge to vomit. Mike? Mike is getting the promotion? That lazy, good-for-nothing piece of crap is getting the promotion? That’s outrageous. He writes some short, simplistic bull for the client to gobble up, and he’s the obvious choice? I’m in it to win it. I was always in it. It should be me.
I get out of Roger’s office in a daze. I don’t even care if I close the door properly. I just keep thinking that this is not happening. It can’t be happening. I walk past accounting and in the corner of my eye, I spot their pinboard with the dog pound photo. Virtue signaling much? I doubt Mike gives a damn about dogs, he just went there to show off how freaking perfect he is. Bastard. I turn back, enter the room, unpin the photo and rip it to shreds. The pieces fall to the ground but I don’t bother picking them up. I grab a cookie on the way out and head to the storage room. I have to get the party box. I thought it was for his birthday! And it’s for his promotion. Roger is promoting that inexperienced, immature moron instead of me!
I snatch champagne out of the box and make my way to the kitchen to open it. Before I get the wine key I open the cabinet and threw out all of Mike’s yerba. Disgusting, bitter mud grass. He thinks he looks so cool when he drinks it, with that stupid cup and that stupid straw. Such a phony. I struggle for a while to open the champagne, but I finally manage to take a big gulp. The fizzing sensation in my mouth eases my anger a little bit. I drink more. Most of the bottle is gone in a couple of minutes. I think that maybe I should put the champagne in the fridge, but when I open it I notice Mike’s quinoa salad. Of course. Of course, he has to eat healthily. He wouldn’t be perfect without that, would he? What a jerk. I take another gulp and then reach for the salad and then devour in seconds. I can barely feel the taste.
I don’t know whether I’m drunk or sick, but I sway when I walk to the open space. I stop at Mike’s desk. There’s the picture. Way to show off a bimbo girlfriend and brag about your vacation. He’s such a douche. I pick up the picture and smash the frame violently on the counter. At least now his desk won't be clean for once. I remember one quote I found on the internet about how a desk is a reflection of one's mind so it’s better to have it cluttered than empty. I chuckle. Obviously. The guy’s an idiot. The only other thing on the desk is that giant, ludicrous cup. Ha! Like he’s going to save the planet by not drinking from a plastic cup. Ridiculous. Feeling lightheaded, I open the cup and plan to pour the rest of the champagne in it. I must be very invested in the task because I don’t hear him at first.
“Jon?” he asks in a calm voice.
“Mike. What –” I try to sound natural, but it’s hard to do with a bottle of champagne in your stomach. I swallow slowly. “Didn’t you leave like three hours ago?”
“No, I didn’t have a ride home so I went to the cafeteria. They were giving out free dinner because of the blizzard. Didn’t you read the newsletter?”
My only answer is a low, guttural groan. Of course, he reads the newsletter. Maybe if I read it I would have gotten the promotion.
“Jon.” Mike’s tone turns serious. “What is going on? Did you smash my picture?”
I don’t know what does it. Is it the champagne, the cookies, the three coffees, the quinoa salad, or just seeing Mike, but I can’t hold it in anymore. Instead of explaining myself, or trying to salvage the situation in any way, I vomit right into Mike’s big insulated cup. Mike looks bewildered but says nothing. The room is completely silent for a few dreadful seconds.
Then I lift the cup up, as in for a toast, and look Mike straight in the eyes.
“Congratulation on your promotion!” I say with a smile on my face.
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I enjoyed every bit.