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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Vase


     "I want you to have this," she said reassuringly. "It's not much but you know, it's something that I hope will remind you of me whenever you look at it."
     Sarah gently placed a vase on Alex's desk. Alex looked at it with a mild sense of interest. It was a small but modern looking decorative vase with a simple landscape of a desert and a mountain range carved as well as painted on it. On one side, the mountains were depicted with warm colors and the opposite was true on the other side.
     "Are you sure?" Alex asked. "This looks really nice."
     "It's yours! I never really liked it myself... I always thought that it would make a good farewell gift," said Sarah. "It's very you."
     "Temperamental you mean?" Alex teased. "One day I'm happy go lucky and the next day I'm cold as ice?"
     "No. Flexible," Sarah responded quickly. "That's always been how I see you. Very flexible."
     "I'll take that as a compliment," Alex said. "Thanks for the vase. I think it's pretty."
     "Well, just don't forget to take it with you on your way out. We won't let you in the building anymore starting tomorrow you know."
     "Oh you know that Penny will let me in," he said. "Besides, you guys probably would be very happy to see me since they haven't hired anyone to take over my position yet."
    "That's true... Well, I have to get something printed for Ken," Sarah looked down at her cell. "Shoot, I'm late. I gotta go now. You sure you don't want me to wait for you and help you with your things later?"
     "Yes, I'm sure Sarah. Thanks though. You better go before Ken calls me..."
     Sarah sighed. "Alright then. I'll see you later tonight then."
     As she quickly turned around to leave the desk, Sarah had knocked down the vase with her left hand. She then rushed out through the door to Alex's office and closed it behind her.
     "So clumsy," Alex said, shaking his head. He reached out for the vase and sat it back up before focusing his attention on the last report he had to complete before the end of the day.

*****

     Alex knew that he was late. It didn't help that it was Friday night so it was hard for him to find a parking spot near the popular Stardust Premonition restaurant. It was his fault. He wanted to make sure that his colleagues would not be burdened by his departure so he decided to go over a detailed task planning with the office director, Ken. Being the methodical boss, Ken took his time with Alex's assistance but that left him with little time himself to arrive promptly at the get together. Thankfully, Ken decided to return the favor by helping him carry his personal belongings to his car.
     "A large group of fun loving people," Alex told told the waitress and she accompanied him to the very back of the restaurant.
     "Well, look who we got here!" Brian yelled out. "Hey guys, he's here!"
     The ten people at the table stood up and gave him a round of applause. The patrons at the nearby tables caught on to the commotion and started randomly cheering him on as well.
     "Woah, what a welcome," he said, laughing as he bowed his head to everyone around the room.
     "Hey Alex, over here!" It was Sarah. "You are at the head of the table!"
     Alex walked to his chair and when he got there, Sarah placed her right palm on his chest.
     "Before you get to sit down, you have to give us your farewell speech," she said. "Especially because you made us wait thirty minutes!"
     Everyone around the table started to chant out "Speech! Speech!" and Alex knew he had to get it over with.
     "Alright guys, I'll make this short and sweet-"
     "Or long and hard!" Somebody at the table yelled out. Alex figured that it was probably Eric.
     "Or that," Alex responded and everybody laughed. "Okay, I just want to first and foremost let you all know that you guys are like family to me. I remember how welcoming all of you were when I first started with this company. It's been a real pleasure to work alongside such talented and professional people and then to get to know each of you on a personal basis, I could never have asked for a better experience for my first foray into the corporate world as a fresh graduate... Marley, thank you for being patient with me with all the scheduling requests. Brian, I will miss our morning banters. Lindsay, Natalie... Thank you for the positive energy even through our most challenging assignments. Patrick, I still owe you an e-book, I will get you a nice one too, just wait for it... David, thanks for showing me that I can actually leave my office every so often for a quick break. John, Chen, I always enjoy the panicked office visits whenever we were close to a deadline. And Eric... What can I say about you Eric?"
     Eric gave Alex an exaggerated shrug and everybody laughed.
     "And of course," Alex turn his head to look at Sarah. She looked straight at him, teary eyed. "Sarah, thank you for always being there for me. The wealth of knowledge you have shared with me has been a critical key to my success here and of course, you and your husband have been very supportive to me at a personal level. Thank you, for everything."
     Sarah leaned over and gave Alex a hug as everyone clapped their hands and cheered.
     "We'll miss you Alex," she said with a smile on her face as she leaned back from the hug.
     The dinner that proceeded the speech was very lively as Alex's freshly former co-workers shared a seemingly never-ending number of funny stories about Alex while he was at the job, like the one time when he accidentally hung up the phone while hosting a conference call because he wanted to mute the speaker off. The gang stayed in the restaurant for a couple of hours and afterwards, they all gathered at the parking lot for a little bit before each of them gave Alex a final send off.
     "Where's Todd? Are you sure he is on his way?" Alex asked Sarah as everyone started to walk away towards their parked cars.
     "Yeah, he is. He should be here soon, called him not too long ago," she answered as she lit herself a cigarette.
     "A shame he couldn't make it to dinner. Would have been great to have him there," said Alex.
     "Well, we couldn't find a babysitter. You know he would have loved to hang out with us."
     "You know Sarah, I wish I could see you quit smoking before I leave for California."
     "Fine," Sarah said as she dropped the cigarette to the ground before stepping on it playfully. "I'll quit one smoke just for you."
     "Well, you know that wouldn't be enough right?" Alex said, smiling. "I'd like you to promise me that you will try to quit when I am away because you know no one else would ask you to."
     Sarah gave out a deep, long sigh.
     "What's wrong?" Alex asked.
     "Oh, nothing," she said and stared him deep in the eyes. "I guess it's hard to lose a good colleague."
     "I'll miss you, Sarah," Alex said and gave her a big hug.
     "Yeah... I will miss you too Alex."
     Suddenly, the area they were standing on brightened as a car slowed down to park right in front of them. It was Todd and Alex could see his two little girls in the backseat looking rather sleepy.
     "Hey Alex, buddy. Sorry I couldn't make it," Todd said as he closed the door to the driver's seat behind him. "The kids you know."
     Alex walked towards him and shook his extended right palm. "Oh no problem, Todd. Well, I should have just driven Sarah home."
     "Oh no, it's out of your way," Todd said. "Congrats on the California job. I heard it's pretty lucrative."
     "Yeah, it's a great opportunity. Can't say no to it," Alex responded.
     "Well, I know that you'd do great," Todd said. He then looked at Sarah and asked, "Are you ready honey?"
     "Yeah, the girls need to get to bed soon," Sarah said as she sat herself on the passenger's seat.
     "Well, okay. Good luck Alex and please come see us whenever you come back up to Oregon."
     "I sure will," Alex said and gave Sarah a wave goodbye. Sarah waved back before attending to her girls. Todd went back into the car and soon after, he drove the car away.
     When the car was no longer visible in his view, Alex looked down on the pavement and saw Sarah's crushed cigarette. After staring at it for a couple of seconds, he walked back to his car and drove himself home.

*****

     It was October and the weather had just started to cool down a bit and as usual, Alex found himself turning the vase he received from Sarah 180 degrees to represent the coming of winter with the cool colors facing out. He had placed the vase on top of the fireplace ever since he arrived at the house close to six years ago. Though the vase has a significance to him, this ritual also brought about some painful memories from his past: Sarah passed away about 4 years ago in a car crash. Sarah had shared with Alex before while they were working together that Todd never wanted her to drive but they both agreed at the time that Todd was being a control freak. Alex learned at the funeral that Todd felt that her death was his fault because he didn't discourage her from getting her driver's license. He committed suicide several months after leaving his daughters at Sarah's parents. He lied to them by telling them that he had to attend an office gala the evening of his death before driving his car off a cliff to a fiery death.
     Alex didn't like to think too much about the horrors of their passings and tried to hold on to the good times he had spent with the Hastings. His move to California did have an immediate impact on his friendship with Sarah. She seemed hesitant to communicate with him whenever he called her. She was always busy and there was a strange tone to her voice that he couldn't quite decipher. His emails were barely replied to as well. At one point, Alex thought of approaching Todd in regards to her strange behavior but he felt that perhaps that would be highly inappropriate. Alex stopped all communications with Sarah less than a year after he moved, only to hear about her deaths several years later from Eric.
     "Deep in thoughts?"
     It was Jennifer, Alex's girlfriend of three months.
     "Hey Jen. Good morning," he turned around and gave Jennifer a kiss.
     "Morning stud... Maybe I can make you some breakfast?" She asked.
     "That would be fantastic," he said. "There should be some eggs and sausages in the fridge."
     Alex noticed that Jennifer had her right hand placed behind her and as soon as Jennifer realized that, she pulled out a glass rose she was hiding from him.
     "For you," she said and she placed the glass rose in his hand. "Let me make your breakfast!"
     Alex watched Jennifer ran towards the kitchen with much admiration and love before instinctively placing the glass rose into the vase. As the glass stem hit the bottom of the vase, Alex could feel that it hit something inside, and whatever it was that came into contact with the stem seemed dislodged. For the first time  since he received the vase, he peered inside of it and saw a SD card stuck between one of the the tight corners of the vase. Alex gently placed the glass rose down, picked up the vase and turned it upside down. The card fell right onto his left palm.
     "I'll be right back, Jen," he said as he rushed up to the stairs into his computer room. Jennifer nodded as she continued cooking.
     Alex nervously plug in the card into the reader of his computer and found that it contained only one text document. He opened it quickly and read its content:

     Dear Alex,
     I should be ashamed of myself for doing this to you. In case you haven't figured it out, I had fallen in love with you. It must have happened during the time that Irene left you because we ended up spending so much time together. Even when Todd was there, I only felt our presence. To see a man so heartbroken by a woman he desperately loved... You shared the rawness of your emotion and your soul, baring it all... I have never experienced that from a man before. It made me see you in a different light and as much as this was an exciting experience for me, it ended up being such a hurtful one as well because I have to see you five days a week at work while hiding my feelings from you.
     The reason why I am writing this is because I would like some closure for this "problem". As we both know, I am a married woman. Also, I don't think that I can leave Todd because I do still love him so but I would like to get just one kiss from you... Tonight, at the farewell dinner or perhaps earlier or maybe even tomorrow? Just one small kiss to show that you do not feel the same way about me. Unless of course, you decide that the kiss represents something else that could happen between us.
     I look forward to it. Secretly loving you,
     - Sarah

     "Is everything okay Alex?" Jennifer who was standing behind him asked while placing left hand on his right shoulder. "You have been up here for a while, and breakfast is ready."
     Alex turned to Jennifer and buried his face on her stomach. Jennifer curiously looked at the screen as she caressed Alex's hair gently with both of her hands.

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