Zoe leaned back in her chair and sighed. She gazed around the silent office and past the darkened cubicles surrounding hers. Down the aisle, she glimpsed the gloomy windows. She never enjoyed staying late, but the boss had heaped last-minute work on her and she thought it best to get it done as soon as possible. It didn’t help matters she had spent the past half hour daydreaming about quitting the company.
It had taken her a while to admit it, but she did not like her job. She got along with everyone and always pasted an eternal smile on her lips. But, in the past few months, she had been dragging herself out of bed every weekday and resisting the urge to call in sick.
Things had been changing at the office; the new boss treated his employees like machines and had taken an especial dislike toward Zoe. Why? She could not say, but glancing around the empty office, it sure seemed true. He seemed to dump all eleventh-hour work on her, and only her.
Zoe rubbed her eyes and yawned. Exhausted, she glanced at her phone and saw a new text message from her friend Norman. He had contacted her days ago and explained he was starting a business, wondering whether she would join him in the venture.
Zoe had said she needed time to consider it. In fact, she had been daydreaming about quitting this job and throwing all cares to the wind. She had been pondering Norman’s offer.
“Zoe, I believe we’d be a helluva team,” Norman’s deep black eyes had fixed their serious gaze on her — one blue and one brown — heterochromatic eyes.
“But if I leave,” Zoe rested her face in her hands, “I’ll be taking a significant risk with my life. I also wouldn’t have time to do both jobs. What should I do?”
Zoe contemplated her options for another moment, before setting her hands on the keyboard. The characters on the screen melted into one giant blur; she blinked the exhaustion away and continued.
Muffled footsteps and the sound of shuffling papers distracted her. She glimpsed an older woman she didn’t know, walking toward the copier room. Zoe gazed after her; she thought she was the only person left in the building.
“Working late?” Zoe smiled as the woman approached on her return to her own workstation.
The woman paused; an exhausted smile spread across her lips.
“Yes, I am. I wish I wasn’t though, but there are bills to pay and I need the overtime.”
“Yeah, I hear ya,” Zoe said, “I need to get this done by tomorrow, some last-minute stuff my boss requested.”
“Ah, yes, I worked for him many years ago.”
“What was he like?” Zoe asked, eager for a break and a little gossip.
The woman leaned against Zoe’s cubicle.
“Unkind and a terrible boss, somewhat of a bully, too. He enjoys demeaning and overworking the people he doesn’t like. He tests the waters with them, and if they give an inch, he grabs a foot and then some. If I were you, I’d request a transfer. You’re on his blacklist.”
“How do you know?”
The woman shrugged, “You’re the only one in his department working this late.”
Zoe took a deep breath. As the woman turned to go, Zoe made a split-second decision.
“You know,” she spoke and the woman, halting, attended her, “my friend has asked me to join him in a startup. I’m hesitant. I don’t know what to do, it’s like I’m between a rock and a hard place.”
“What’s keeping you from taking your friend’s offer?”
Zoe thought for a moment, “Fear. I’m afraid it’ll fail and I’ll be out on my butt.”
“What’s the alternative?”
“Staying here, I suppose, and hoping a transfer goes through,” Zoe shrugged, “maybe I’ll search for another job, at another company as big and heartless as this one.”
“I had an offer like that once. My friend Norm asked me to join him in a risky venture,” The woman said in a voice brimming with melancholy and nostalgia.
Zoe caught her breath when she heard the name; she always called Norman ‘Norm’ because he never bent the rules.
“Wh-what happened?” Zoe stammered.
“I turned him down and stayed at my safe and cushy job, working under a boss who disrespected me at every turn. I applied for transfer after transfer to another department, but it was years before that came through. Found out later the boss had thwarted all my opportunities over and over until he couldn’t anymore. By then, it was too late. Exhausted, I was drowning in debt with my small salary just keeping me afloat. Meanwhile, Norm and the person who took the offer I’d turned down were rolling in dough like Scrooge McDuck. In my darkest hour — unlike Scrooge McDuck — he loaned me some money, which went a long way.”
She paused; Zoe gaped.
“I’ve always regretted turning down his job offer,” she fixed her gaze on Zoe.
The woman stepped towards Zoe, who gasped when the light from the table lamp shone on the woman’s eyes. One eye was blue, the other brown. Zoe’s own face, drawn and haggard, stared back at her. The clock on the wall struck the hour and Zoe snapped her gaze away. When she turned back to the woman, no one was there.