It was 5 o'clock and most people were shuffling out of the office. I was sitting in my cubicle, watching them all with envy.
It's not that I normally cared too much about staying late. Pete and I only really did this four times a year, but the entire vibe at work had shifted since the higher ups had begun intervening. I didn't enjoy work as much as I used to and even more recently, Pete had been acting really strange. I decided that I couldn't take this tension anymore and I was going to try to find a way to confront him about it tonight without coming off as accusatory.
I hung around at my desk for a little while before going to meet Pete in his office. We'd probably only have to stay a couple hours to get the reports together, but it meant we got to order in dinner so I was already fantasizing about what I would eat.
When I got to Pete's office, he was staring out the window with his hands in his pockets. His jaw was clenched. I took a big gulp before saying, “Hey, Pete.”
Pete turned around. "Oh, hey, Caroline," he said as he looked down at his desk and began rubbing his chin. “You ready to get these things knocked out?”
I slowly nodded. “I guess so,” I cautiously said before taking a seat in front of his desk. “I have my numbers.”
Pete and I began working in silence for a bit, but after a few minutes, it actually seemed like Pete was lightening up. He started humming some tune and joking around like he used to. I didn’t want to spoil his mood, but I thought this was a good opportunity to bring up his moodiness.
“It’s nice to see you in a lighter mood,” I said before instantly regretting it. Did I just make things really awkward?
“Huh?” Pete asked as he looked up at me. “Oh,” he began before I even had a chance to respond. “Yeah, um, listen… I’m really sorry I’ve been so distracted and to myself lately. Things are just a little crazy right now.”
“Is everything okay?” I asked. Now I was concerned. I had thought Pete was keeping something about work to himself, but could it be something more personal? And who knows the severity of it?
“Yeah, it’s nothing,” he began with a sigh. “I should know more soon. It’s just been stressful.”
“Oh,” I responded. “Want to talk about it?”
Pete looked up at me and shot me a devious smile. “You’ll be the first person I talk to when I know more.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. What was that supposed to mean?
We continued working and things felt practically normal. I was glad I had brought it up. Before I knew it, I felt my stomach growl and when I looked down at my watch, I noticed it was almost 7. “I’ve really lost track of time,” I said as I looked over at Pete, who was staring at something on his computer. I noticed his eyes quickly look down towards the bottom of the screen where the clock was.
“Oh, shit,” he replied. “You want to order dinner?”
“Yes, please,” I said as I placed my laptop on his desk and went to pull out my phone. “Where should we order from?”
He drummed the desk for a few seconds before saying, “let’s get poke.”
While poke wasn’t my favorite, I was so hungry that it actually sounded good. “Okay, perfect.” I got Pete’s order and called us in two bowls.
“They don’t have a delivery person right now,” I told Pete while still on the phone. “I don’t mind picking it up if you’re okay with me stepping out for a few minutes.”
Pete nodded so I completed the order and hung up.
I began organizing my papers and making a mental list of everything we still needed to wrap up before we went home. It wasn’t much, but I wasn’t about to rush through it on an empty stomach. “I’m going to run to the bathroom and then head out. Do you have the credit card?”
Pete pulled the corporate card out of his drawer and handed it to me before I picked up my bag and began walking out of his office. “Okay, see you in a bit.”
I walked down the hall to the bathroom. It was always so weird to be in the office when nobody else was there and the hallways were dark.
After I finished in the bathroom, I walked back towards the front of the office to go down the elevators to pick up dinner. I casually glanced back at Pete’s office and saw him pacing. He was on his cell phone and had his head down.
“Oh, no,” I thought to myself. Pete had just started seeming happier. I didn’t want him to be in a bad mood again so soon. I could deal with the awkwardness, but I didn’t like him being so down. Isn’t it the worst when you have a friend who’s going through something and you can’t help?
I continued on my way and picked up the food. I was riding back up the elevator within 15 minutes and felt myself getting anxious over what I would be walking into.
When I got back, I planned on acting like I hadn’t seen Pete on the phone. If he wanted to tell me what was going on, he would. Maybe it wasn’t anything anyway.
As I walked through his office door, I realized that there was no way I could act natural. He had a small bottle of Jack Daniels, opened, on his desk and he was casually sitting in his chair.
“Caroline!” He greeted. “You’re back!”
“Yeah,” I slowly responded as I placed the food down. “What’s going on?”
“Have a shot,” he instructed.
What had I just walked into?