Alison was smiling as she let her mind wander. “I guess this is all part of work and getting along with coworkers,” she thought. This was her first real job in an office and she just wanted to make a good impression. She was prepared to work hard and keep track of deadlines, but listening to such rambling during lunch was something she had not thought about. She was sitting with Gloria and Rachel at the lunch table in the staff lounge of Roth and Roman's annex offices. They were part of the accounts receivable department that Alison was a part of now and they were going on about someone’s new hairstyle, another woman’s baby weight, and speculating about whether or not the cute guy in the office was dating anyone. It was all so confusing and uninteresting to Alison.
They suddenly got louder and pulled Alison’s attention back to them.
"You're back," Gloria and Rachel said in unison as Jen rushed in to fill her water bottle. She was a bit overweight but she looked athletic too. She had the appearance of some who enjoyed exercise.
Jen, who was out of breath, agreed, "Yes, I'm back."
"Running during your entire lunch hour again?" Gloria asked.
"Not the entire hour, most of it though," Jen said.
"We never see you anymore since you got back," Rachel said.
"I'm not big on sitting for an hour during lunch anymore. It's a lovely day outside. You should check it out," Jen said.
Alison, eager to enter this conversation said, "I noticed. That sounds great. Maybe I should give that a try. Are there nice places to go around her?"
Gloria and Rachel simultaneously said, "No," as Jen said, "Yes."
"This is Alison. She's new to our department," Gloria said.
Jen smiled and said, "I can show you where to go if you are interested in getting out and moving."
"That would be nice," Alison said.
"Jen," Rachel said, "I need to file the new reports by Friday. I'll leave them on your desk."
"If they're your reports, then I guess they should stay with you, yes?" Jen pointed out.
"You're a part of this office too," Rachel said.
"Absolutely, and I am happy to do the work that is assigned to me by our boss. If Mrs. Morales says that I need to do something, I'll do it," Jen said. She turned her attention back to Alison, "Nice to meet you," and went back to work.
"Well, there you go, Alison. You've just met our department's resident snob," Rachel said.
"She was gone for three months, some sort of surgery, lost thirty pounds, and now she's too good for us," Gloria said, "You don't want to bother with her. She's not worth it."
Alison didn't comment. Jen seemed nice to her but it was her first day and she wanted to fit in. It's just work. Best to leave it alone.
Alison watched Jen that past week come and go. She seemed so content and happy and nice. Alison tried making a friendship work with Gloria and Rachel during lunches but after hearing all of the office gossip the first day, she felt drained. Then it was more and more negative observations which just made Alison feel worse by the end of each day.
Thursday morning, Alison snuck her sneakers into the office and hid them under her desk. She did not need to hide them. She just did not know how to handle telling Gloria and Rachel that she was not going to have lunch with them anymore. She wondered if they would treat her the way they treated Jen.
Around the beginning of lunchtime, Jen saw Alison putting on her sneakers. "Wow, you came to that decision fast. I wish I woke up as quickly as you did."
"What do you mean?" Alison asked.
"Let's talk while we're out. I'm guessing you would like me to show you the nice places to walk during lunch still?" Jen asked.
Alison nodded and after hearing Gloria and Rachel talking down the hallway, was eager to get going.
"There's a manmade lake about a quarter of a mile from here. It should be nice in today's weather," Jen said and they started walking in that direction.
"What did you mean by 'woke up'?" Alison asked.
"I was so busy trying to fit in and make everyone else happy. I wasn't valuing myself. I took on other people’s work and tolerated mean conversations instead of speaking up. I was making myself unhealthy, exhausted, and sad," Jen said.
"Gloria mentioned that you had surgery," Alison said.
"I was 230 pounds which caused me to have a herniated disc in my lower back. It was too much weight for my body to handle and it hurt so much. I could barely function," Jen said.
"That sounds painful. Gloria acted like it was no big deal," Alison said.
"I told Gloria what I was going through but I don't think she ever really listened to me," Jen said, "The doctor told me that I needed to lose weight after the surgery or else another disc might pop out, so I took that seriously,” Jen motioned to her running shoes, “I'm taking that seriously."
"I would too," Alison said.
They arrived at the lake. "So, here we are. The leaves on the trees are wonderful this time of year. Look at those bright reds and oranges," Jen said.
"Oh yes," Alison agreed.
"I love there are benches for us, the water ripples so beautifully with the breeze, and I don't know if you would recognize it since we spend most of our day under fluorescent lighting but that giant yellow thing in the sky is the sun," Jen pointed out.
Alison chuckled, "This is a lovely place to go. I don't understand why Gloria and Rachel gave you such a hard time."
"They don't give me a hard time for coming here," Jen took a deep breath, "They give me a hard time for changing and setting boundaries. I could never do enough to fit in. They were never going to value me as a friend."
"That sounds lonely," Alison said.
"I was afraid of being lonely. Funny, I was lonelier when I was around them then I am now," Jen said.
"So you wanted to be healthier and you are doing it. That's great," Alison said.
Jen looked at the lake and enjoyed how tranquil everything was. "Oh, it was so much more than that. I wanted to believe I was enough even if no one else did. I wanted to be my authentic self and be happy with her. I learned that I could do that for myself. It will be nice to find real friends. The ones who make you feel like you belong and you don't have to put a ton of work into earning that.
But the major work was finding a way to belong to myself again. That's the huge prize," Jen said.
"Well that's more than great. That's amazing," Alison said.
“We can walk around the entire lake. Let me show you the trail,” Jen said.
“Wonderful,” Alison said. Being out in nature and chatting felt energizing. Alison was certain that she would not be drained at the end of this day.
"I would like to be your friend," Alison said.
Jen laughed, "It sounds like the way I made friends when I was five."
"Kind of childish, huh? Sorry," Alison said.
"No," Jen shook her head and looked at Alison as if to say, always be yourself, "Five is good. I can remember being my true self when I was five."