LET ME OUT! June felt a screech rise from the back of her head. She pinched her eyes shut and shook her head irritably. Stacks of order forms and their meaningless words swam in front of her.
“I can’t,” she hissed to herself. “Unfortunately, we’re stuck here, kiddo.” A folder slapped across the top of her cubicle. She looked up to see Adam’s dull face. “Can I help you?”
“Meeting in the conference room in five minutes. Let’s go,” he said, drawling as always. June stood and ran a hand through her short red-brown hair before scooping up a yellow legal pad and pen and stalking down the hallway behind him. These meetings almost never have anything to do with me, she thought. They’re just an hour of nothing. Her eyes flicked to a window, its beige blinds sagging like droopy eyelids. I could just tear those down and break the glass, she thought. I could do exactly that. Break the glass, jump out the window, and then I’d have wings, no, not wings. Too cliché; start over. Tear down the blinds, break the glass, fall all the way down but while I’m falling, it’ll be slower. Floating. I’ll float down, and then- wait. Float is such an odd word, spelled out. Eff ell oh ey tee. All next to each other, just like that! I bet those letters are friends, to make such a good word. Except it doesn’t even look like a word anymore. I’ll bet-
“For Pete’s sake Junie, snap out of it!” Adam’s hand gripped her arm, face lined with concern. She had reached out and touched the blinds. “We’re going to be late if we don’t hurry.”
“Sorry.” Float, she thought. Eff ell oh. . . .
“You’ve been talking to yourself a lot more than normal,” he grumbled, powerwalking down the hall. “What’s going on in there?” June pursed her lips.
“I’m bored out of my mind. Nothing new.”
“No kidding, you’re always bored!” he spun to face her, his fingers resting on the doorknob of the dreaded conference room. “Look, I know it’s always been hard for you to pay attention. But this one is a big deal, and I don’t want you to get called out again like you did last time. Please, try to be at least a little cognizant.” June nodded. Adam sighed. His glasses were crooked, and the left lens smudged. June began to tell him, but he opened the door too quickly and her mouth snapped shut as he ushered her inside.
“I apologize for how cold it is in here, again,” the supervisor, Mr. Burton, said. June felt a tingling ache begin in her toes and work up to her knee. It hurt too bad to ignore. Her foot tapped restlessly. While tapping her foot did alleviate some of the pain, her knee still throbbed in protest. June pressed a hand over the offending knee and titled a page of the legal pad. “Our sales have gone up, but not nearly enough to make up for the absolute wreck that was last month….”
Her knee smacked against the underside of the table in a violent twitch. Adam gave her a warning look from across the table and shook his head.
“Don’t,” he mouthed. June nodded and forced herself to watch Mr. Burton. His mouth moves, and I know he’s saying words, but what is he saying? Her attention slid almost immediately to the colors of the room. Almost a perfect gradient of dull button-downs and ties all along this side of the table, and then a nice candy-stripe of purple and blue across the way. June began to tally up all the shades in the margins of her paper.
“Ledbetter, you seem to be taking notes intently,” June jumped at hearing her last name. “Do you have any ideas?” She glanced around the room frantically. What on earth had he been talking about?
“Um…I think that everything is fine now?” she chewed the inside of her cheek, anxiety rising in her like a flood. Burton stared at her and sighed.
“Do you know what I asked you?”
“If I had any ideas for, uh, um…I’m afraid I don’t know,” she admitted. “I’m sorry, sir.” He frowned and turned to Adam.
“What about you, Wallace?”
“We all could do well as salespeople to a more genuine interest in our client’s personal lives,” he began to drone on. June felt the hair rise on the back of her neck. What if Burton asks me to stay behind? She thought. He’s going to ask me to stay behind, I just know it. Junie, why are you like this? Oh, people are standing up. Meeting over?
“Ledbetter, can we have a talk in my office, please?”
“Sure,” she squeaked, managing a stiff smile. Adam’s brow furrowed as she followed Burton into the stuff of her nightmares.
June tried to swallow the lump rising in her throat as she shuffled out of Burton’s office to gather her little brown purse and sweater. She started as Adam spoke behind her.
“You didn’t have to wait for me,” she said, voice quivering.
“It was almost time to go home anyway.” He shrugged. “Come on, let’s go get coffee.” He held out his hand, and June stared at the fine lines of his palm. She took it and allowed him to lead her out of the building.
Adam fiddled with his half-emptied paper cup of coffee, one heel kicking the wooden bench they’d settled on. June could feel him looking at her. Tears welled in her eyes and she fought to keep them from spilling out.
“So. What happened, Junie?” She broke down, cringing at the snotty sniff that echoed into the evening air. Thank goodness the park was empty of people.
“I got written up,” she said, her voice rasping. “Burton said I wasn’t dedicated enough to my job, and I need to get my act together or he’d have to let me go.” A fly landed in her hair. Junie wept harder. “I wasn’t made for a desk job! I wasn’t made for ANY job!” Adam patted her shoulder awkwardly.
“Oh, now don’t go saying things like that.” She whipped her head up and glared at him.
“Don’t lie to me! You know I can barely even sit still long enough to type up one report, and just that one is awful! And I have to do that several times a day?! I don’t know what’s wrong with me; I just wasn’t wired to be an adult!” Adam didn’t respond. June threw her hands up in the air. “I know I sound silly and immature; you don’t need to tell me. I don’t know how you do this every day with no end in sight.”
“I don’t think you’re immature,” Adam said slowly. “It sounds to me like you could use a little different perspective is all.” He offered her a tissue. Junie drained her cup and tossed it halfheartedly at the garbage can.
“How do I get a different perspective?”
“June, what do you really think is the most important part of a job?” The question took her aback.
“What?” She sniffed.
“Come on, what do you value about your job? Why are you afraid of losing it if you seem to hate it so much?” Adam probed. Junie watched a thrush peck at some bug and frowned.
“I guess…I guess I thought maybe if I got a job like this one after school I’d somehow feel more grown up. Like I’d just know what to do and how to do it. I was wrong, though. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m miserable.” He huffed and folded his arms.
“Okay, now take a step back and look at that thought. Do you see how many times you said ‘I’ in one sentence?” Junie’s eyes widened behind her glasses. Oh.
“Do you think I just absolutely love being a salesman?” He asked. “June, I majored in cinema in college. This isn’t at all what I wanted to do. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of the line. There’s more to our lives than that office building.” She wiped her nose and laughed thickly.
“There’s people I care about in there. They might not be my best friends in the world, but they are still people who I can get to know and appreciate. I don’t like selling software. But I like seeing you every day, and I like talking to the baristas at that little café.” For the first time, Adam didn’t look dull to Junie. He was warm, and comforting. He smiled at her. June’s ears tingled. “And,” he continued, “when I get done with the day’s work, I get to go home and write, or cook a new food, or fall asleep reading. Yeah, the job is the bulk of my day, but I make an effort to look for the good in and around it.”
“That sounds nice,” June said softly. “I guess it’s been too long since I’ve really thought about anything like that.”
“It is nice. Tell you what: I can’t tell you how to be more aware. But if you promise me you’ll try, I’ll share as much of the good as I can with you.” He stuck out his hand. “Do we have a deal?” June shook his hand, then pulled him into a hug.
“It’s getting dark out earlier, huh? I’ll walk you home.”
The next day, on her walk to work, June looked around. Patterns and shapes and colors caught her eyes as always, but everything felt brighter, more alive. As she stepped onto the elevator, she was ashamed to realize she couldn’t remember her coworkers’ names. Not an overnight process, she thought, but she found when she looked beyond the walls of her own thoughts, there lay an infinitely more meaningful world. Think about other people, she told herself throughout the day.
It had been weeks since the conversation in the park. Junie scrolled absentmindedly through a document on her computer.
“So? How’re you feeling today?” Adam asked, shuffling some papers on his desk.
“A little bit better. Less afraid,” Junie replied. “You’re right. There is a lot more to see the beauty in than I remembered.”
“Good.” An awkward silence hung in the air. Adam leaned back in his chair to look at June. “Um, would you maybe want to get dinner sometime?” June’s ears began to tingle again.
“…Alright. Why not?” She looked at Adam. He’s wearing a patterned tie for once. Tie. Tee eye ee. A good word that suits a nice man, she thought. “Adam?”
He leaned his chair back again.
“Thank you. For helping me, I mean.” Adam smiled, and Junie’s stomach flopped.
“You’re very welcome, June.”