It didn’t take us long to find our rhythm at work again. For most of the first day, Jun and Tia shut themselves in the latter’s office and discussed terms of her severance pay, references, and possible replacements. Sometime in the afternoon we found Jun at Sylvia’s desk. I was tempted to joke to HR about getting a new supervisor, but chose to let people approach her on their own.
Tia let us know that Scott asked for the rest of the week off. The rest of us had to make do without our graphic designer.
On Friday afternoon I marveled at the sight of Jun typing vigorously at her work computer. Eyes forward and checking half a dozen tabs, emails, and schedules, she looked right at home.
“How does it feel?” I asked.
She froze and looked up at me. “Hm?”
“Sitting in that chair, I mean.” They didn’t change anything, since she only planned to use it for another week.
She rolled herself away from the keyboard and stretched her arms and legs. Her tail stuck out under the raised back of the chair. “It feels so much bigger than before.” With a jerk her limbs flopped down like wet towels. “Lots of leg room now.”
I smiled, but it was a short-lived one. Making sure Chelsea and Angela were preoccupied, I whispered, “You sure you’re okay? We haven’t really talked about all this yet.”
She adjusted the seat up and down a few times, looking me in the eye as she did. “That’s the fourth time you’ve asked today, Lennard. Your record, as of yesterday, was three.”
“Yeah. ‘Cause I’m still not sure.”
Her eyes scanned her monitors, a report half-finished and an unopened email beeping at her on the right. The meeting schedule was minimized and some graphical figures displayed on the left.
She turned to me and mustered half of a smile. “I’m fine, for now.”
“What about next week?”
A chuckle. “Don’t know.” Her ears swiveled around until they settled down against her scalp. “I, uh, might need some company later, though.”
I bopped her on the head with the folder in my hands. “I’ll be around.”
A series of heavy steps thundered through the adjacent hall before I could return to my cubicle. I put a hand on my monitor to keep it from falling over as Tia stumbled into view.
“Hey,” she uttered as she wedged herself into our aisle of cubicles.
“What’s up?” I said.
The dragon lifted a claw to reveal a six-pack of beer bottles dangling from one of her nails. “Huddle up, kids, we’re leaving early.”
Jun stood from her chair— which actually made her shorter— and yelled, “Tia, alcohol isn’t allowed on company premises!”
“Myeah-huh. Here’s yours.” She nabbed a bottle between two fingers and tossed it to Jun, who nearly fumbled it.
“Is this allowed?” Chelsea asked, despite following Angela toward the free beer.
“I’m saying it is today, little missy.” She dangled the rest of the bottles over Angela’s head as if it were bait and proceeded to lead the harpy toward the exit with it. “We’re having an early dinner, come on.”
I shrugged and grabbed my bag. “Where at?”
“A sushi place. Now come on.”
Chelsea struggled to shut down her computer. “W-wait! I don’t like sushi!”
“It ain’t for you!” Tia shot back.
The two monsters were out the door before the rest of us, including Chelsea, could gather everything. Outside, Tia and Angela both chugged their beers and tossed them in a recycle bin. As we waited for the bus outside the building, I wondered what passersby thought about the sight of us. Three monsters, all different species, and two humans chatting it up at the curb together. Two wore business suits while the others dressed casual. I was the only guy.
A menagerie of bickering and laughter, for sure. But a pleasant one.
* * *
Scott took me to the Japanese joint for lunch a few times. It made me wonder if he dragged Jun there over the years. Judging by her familiarity with the menu, it was a fair bet. Thanks to Tia’s size, we got shoved into the corner of the tiny restaurant. She simmered in irritation, scrunched into the booth next to Angela.
Wanting something more filling than sushi, I ordered a meaty rice bowl, as did Chelsea. The resident monsters all asked for a variety of sushi between them. Everyone asked for more beer.
Once the alcohol arrived, Tia raised her bottle between two fingers. “So,” she said, “this’s how it’s gonna go for tonight. Tonight, we’re saying goodbye to Sylvia.” Jun raised a hand in protest. “No, shut up. And next Friday, when you leave the company, we’re gonna do this again, to say goodbye to you. I’ll bring a little hanky, wave you off and everything.”
“Um,” Jun mumbled, “I’ll still be living in Phoenix, so there’s really no need for–”
Tia knocked her bottle against Jun’s, said, “shut up” again, and downed hers in one gulp. “See ya, Sylvia, you stuck-up bimbo.”
Angela and Chelsea’s drinks soon clinked into Jun’s, too, making me worry the bottle would break. “Goodbye, Sylvia,” Angela said between sips, “and thanks for all the candy.”
Chelsea began chugging and waved her hand dismissively.
While they drank, I took the chance to say cheers, too. “I’ll help you out with your job hunt if you want.”
Jun laughed under her breath. “That’d be great, actually.”
“So, Jun!” the harpy cried, leaning over the middle of the table, “you gotta tell us how Lennard found out about you!” I covered my mouth with a hand to stifle my laughter.
The retelling of our story lasted until the food arrived, along with a second round of drinks. Tipsiness rose as the weight of our secrets left us. They ceased to be secrets and became the stories of our time together. Tia rolled her eyes at us, but the other two girls managed to laugh along along with us. Angela experienced a moment of sadness that passed with big sigh, Chelsea ate with gusto, while Tia urged us all to drink and eat as much as we wanted.
For the first time I felt like everyone came together as a team.
The door at the front of the restaurant jingled open, and Tia looked up to wave someone over. I was busy with a mouthful of beef and rice. By the time I turned around to see who it was, she was at our table.
A tall, curvy cyclops woman stood before us. She wore a long dark skirt and a cardigan with a black purse dangling from her shoulder. Her big green eye reflected the lamp above our table, her fair skin colored in the amber light.
“Erika!” Angela yelled, lunging from the booth into the cyclops woman, who handily caught her by the shoulders. The act made me wonder how she did it without depth perception.
She put on a motherly smile. “Good to see you, Angela. How are you?”
“I’m great, thanks!” Angela crouched down and gave a sly look at the woman’s stomach. “So I hear you’re cookin’ baby #2 in there, huh? Congratulations!”
“Oh, stop it.” Erika turned to see Chelsea and myself looking quite confused. She extended a hand to me. “Hello, I’m Erika. Scott is my husband.”
I struggled to set down my chopsticks and shook her hand. “Hi, nice to meet you. And, uh, congratulations.” Chelsea did the same. When I checked the space next to me, Jun had scooted as far back as she could, facing the wall with her beer covering her face.
While Angela hanged off of her, Erika petted the harpy’s head and said, “I understand you wanted me to see someone, Tia?”
The dragon finished chugging her sixth beer before answering. “Yeah, the fuzzy one here.” Her claw pointed straight to Jun, who slumped into the booth as if it would hide her better.
Erika lowered Angela to the floor and leaned over me. “Sylvia?”
Realizing she had nowhere to go, Jun set her bottle on the table and sat up. “W-well. My name is Jun, actually.” Ears flat against her head, she couldn’t hold eye contact with Erika for more than a second at a time.
“Jun, then,” she said, “may I speak with you alone?”
A moment of tension passed before Jun gave a subtle nod. Chelsea and I stood up from the booth to let her out, and sat back down to our food. Jun and Erika headed for two empty seats at the bar on the other side of the restaurant while the rest of us stayed at our booth.
They talked through our second round of sushi.
“You’ve been staring for a while, Lenny,” Angela said.
“Well, yeah. This dinner’s supposed to be for her, right?”
“Let ‘em talk it out,” Tia said, stacking a pyramid of beer bottles around her stack of sushi plates. “When they’re done, we’ll all be here for the rebound.” She pointed a fresh bottle at my face. “So don’t worry your pretty little head, Mr. Boyfriend.”
Angela let out a long guffaw and spilled half of her own drink. Regardless, I took the drink and popped it open.
I felt a pat on my shoulder. “Don’t let it bug you,” Chelsea said.
“Well, I’m not bugged by it. Just kind of worried how she’ doing.”
Angela slumped into her booth seat. “The way I hear it, you know exactly how she’s ‘doing,’ amiright?” The volume of her drunken laughter at her own joke shook the lamp over our heads and had me rubbing my forehead.
I felt another pat on my shoulder. “Don’t let her bug you,” Chelsea said.
* * *
Tia signed the check for everyone’s dinner herself. By then, Jun saw Erika off at the front of the restaurant before coming back inside. I caught a glimpse of them sharing a quick hug before parting.
“There she is,” Tia roared as Jun sat down again. “We got the rest of your stuff in a box.”
She smiled. “Ah, thanks.” I felt her grasp my hand under the table.
Jun agreed to finish one last bottle before going home. The other three got on the bus and rode back to work. Presumably, as the least drunk of them, Chelsea got the dragon and harpy home safe. I dreaded to think how either of them could’ve gotten home by flying. One pane of glass and Angela would break. One flying Tia and downtown would break.
The two of us stood out in front of the restaurant, wondering what to do next.
“So,” I said, “how’d it go with Erika?”
She sighed. “It was. Uh, better than I expected.”
“What did you expect?”
“Her to pour beer on my head and walk out.”
“Well, it’s something.”
“Yeah.” I felt her fingers clumsily grab for mine as she leaned against the wall. “I have a lot more people to talk to next week, too.”
“Mhm.” Her legs wavered before she caught herself against the wall. “Here, I’ll call us a taxi.” We brushed our fingers together as I dialled the number. I usually split the taxi bill with her, but she probably wanted a little financial breathing room with her termination date approaching.
Once I hung up, Jun leaned against me. “So, hey.”
Looking up at me with dazed eyes, her lips didn’t move.
“By the way, before you say anything, I think I love you.”
Her jaw went slack and her eyes snapped open. “Wha–”
I smirked. “So what were you going to say?”
Jun’s shaking fist rose above her head, and gently tapped my shoulder on its way down. “Shut up.” Arms curling around my middle, she grasped at the back of my shirt and mumbled into my chest, “You just beat me to it.”
“Well, you wouldn’t say it.”
“I was working up to it.”
“I got impatient.”
Our cab arrived as I yanked her close and kissed her on the ear.
We rode the taxi to her apartment and spent the night together, as we always did. We went our separate ways on Saturday morning and went about our business as we always did. In the evening we met up again for a date and some drinking, as we always did.
Sometimes we went with friends or coworkers. Some stayed as constant companions, while some left, never to call back when invited. Some jobs gave us grief, write-ups, and stressful evenings. Others welcomed us, gave us comfy desk chairs, and had parties on our birthdays. Eventually I started keeping track of time by which apartment we lived in, rather than by year.
The formula of our lives changed, but the final equation never did. Every date night I could count on Jun, myself, and a bottle between us.