Marcella scurried down the aisle and slid into her cubicle, opposite Kahlil’s, with seconds to spare before the clock ticked over to 9:00. She dropped her purse into her desk drawer and locked it.
“Good morning. You look sharp,” Kahlil said. Instead of her typical workplace casual garb, she was wearing a navy-blue skirt suit and heels. She kicked the shoes off and wiggled her toes.
“Thanks. I have to look good for that presentation,” she said.
“With Elrond. I know.”
She giggled at their private nickname for the head of their department. During their new employee orientation, Kahlil had joked about how much he looked like the Tolkien character. Nerd recognized nerd. Over time, they discovered many mutual interests in movies and books.
“I put a run in my last pair of hose getting dressed, so I had to stop at the drug store. Which meant I didn’t have time for breakfast.”
“Et voila.” Kahlil opened the bottom drawer of his file cabinet. He retrieved a brown paper bag and a twelve-ounce cup of coffee from a nearby breakfast joint.
“Egg and cheese on a plain bagel. Half-caf with hazelnut creamer,” he said. He reached across the aisle and deposited the items on her desk. They met for breakfast at least once a week and knew each other’s preferences.
“Oh, my God. You’re a lifesaver.”
“I am, indeed, round with a hole in the middle.”
“Learn to accept gratitude. How did you know?” She pushed the cup aside and unwrapped the sandwich.
“I almost called you last night. I was freaking out,” she said before taking a bite of the sandwich.
“You could have.”
“Yeah, well,” she said around the mouthful. She held up a finger. “Wait.” After she swallowed, she put her hand down and continued. “I thought, ‘What would Kahlil tell me,’ and talked myself down. So, thanks for the imaginary pep-talk.”
“You’re welcome. You’ve got this. You’ll be great.”
They were both quality assurance engineers. Both were “504s” in the parlance of their company’s hierarchy: Senior Associate III. Kahlil was satisfied with his rank. Any higher meant a lot more work than he wanted to do. It meant sacrificing nights, weekends, and sometimes vacations. He did his best to fly under the radar.
Marcella had her sights set on being a 505. Corporate Vice President. Sometimes, Kahlil wished she weren’t ambitious. She wasn’t going to stop at 505. She’d be a Partner someday.
Partners didn’t meet 504s for breakfast.
He turned back to his monitor and resumed working on a test plan. Forty-five minutes passed. Then Marcella stood up.
“I gotta get in there and set up,” she said in strangled tones. Kahlil leaned back in his chair and spun to face her. Her shoulders were tight and high.
“Deep breath,” he told her. “You’ll be great.”
“I don’t know.”
“Hey.” He stood up and crossed the aisle. “Look at me.”
Their eyes met.
“What did imaginary me tell you last night?”
“I am going to rock this.”
“And why is that?”
“Because I am awesome, and I know my stuff.”
“Imaginary me is smart. You should listen to him.”
She grinned. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“So hire me as your assistant when you make Partner. Now go get ‘em.”
He waited until about twenty minutes after the hour. Wandered down the hall toward the conference room where Marcella was presenting. He stopped as he neared the glass-walled room and stood where he could see in without being noticed. Marcella was in front of a giant screen, her face intent, her posture powerful. Everyone was rapt. She was right where she belonged.
He wondered if he would make a good assistant.
About the story
“Simpatico” emerged from a writing exercise titled, “Intimacy.” The challenge was to write about “two people in love who are so attuned to each other they can, in a sense, read each other’s minds.” I thought that a romantic connection was too easy. I wanted to write about an intimate friendship, instead.
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