In the three years since Lukas had last been into the office, everything had changed. The entranceway was sparce, with less seats scattered about. The vending machines under the stairs had been replaced by a coffee machine that was free to use. Busy corridors and loud workspaces had been replaced with barren rooms and empty desks. It all looked cleaner than Lukas remembered, void of personality.
As he shuffled down to the old office, Lukas held onto the bag containing Gloop tightly. He could feel sweat bubbling from the nerves, as he walked past the scattered few people who still used the office. He thought they somehow knew that Gloopy was with him, and he had to protect it from them. Waiting for him at the bank of desks was Stu, his manager, coffee cup in one hand and chatting with someone a few desks away. They hadn’t met in person in three years, but Lukas could see that lockdown had aged him. His belly was bigger, hanging over his belt. His shirt tight, and clearly in need of being replaced. Receding hairline and bags under his eyes. To Lukas he looked like someone who had given up and accepted that this was his lot in life. Lukas thought he was probably just one belt size away from doing the same.
Gloopy was almost weightless, but Lukas was sure he could feel it shifting around in the bag as he carefully placed it on the desk next to his monitor.
“Howdy Lukas,” Stu said once he was finished catching up with the person he was speaking to.
“Hey,” Lukas replied and started to log into the computer.
“Is this your first time back in the office?”
“Yeah. It’s strange, isn’t it?”
“It is. A little bit different nowadays. The coffee is free now though if you haven’t already gotten one for yourself. We can take a walk down there together in a bit. I was hoping to go for a walking meeting with you if that’s okay?”
“Yeah sure. Sounds good.”
“The weather isn’t great, but as we’re together in person it makes sense to make use of the outside together.”
“Definitely. I just need to log in and I’m free to go whenever you are.”
“That’s good. I want today to be a bit more relaxed than normal. Just a good time to catch up and realign everything, you with me?”
Lukas nodded at his manager and wished that doing this every other week would be forgotten within the week. As he watched the little icon spin around and around on the screen, his eyes kept darting to his bag that was shifting slightly on the desk. It was subtle, but it was clearly happening. The desktop on the computer booted up and Lukas quickly opened up the system that tracked his whereabouts to log into that. It wasn’t enough that Stu had seen him in person, if he wasn’t logged into that on the hour then he would owe them time. He’d gotten used to being able to log in early at home, get his breakfast and coffee sorted and then start work when he was supposed to. It made no sense to him why they needed to check when he was on the computer when they could see when he started doing the actual work. But as always, he knew not to reason why.
“Are you ready then? We’ll get a coffee and head out to walk around and have a chat about how things are going and catch up a little bit. It’s been a while since we’ve actually been in the same room together.”
“Good to go.”
As Lukas stood up he picked up his bag and started to place it on his shoulder.
“You can leave that here,” Stu said. “No one is going to take your lunch. Just leave it on the table.”
Lukas hesitated, not wanting to be away from his new friend.
“Come on, mate. Let’s get going.”
Lukas placed the bag back down on the desk and it felt like he was leaving a part of himself behind. His steps became heavier as he walked away from the desk and followed Stu down the corridor back to the entrance of the building. His manager’s words sounded echoey and distant, as if he was hearing him while underwater. They walked out of the building, coffee in hand, and walked around the surrounding streets. There were a few people around, but not many. Lukas wasn’t paying attention to a word that Stu said, and Stu didn’t seem to notice that he was talking to no one. He could hold a conversation by himself without any problems. They moved through the streets and Lukas was on autopilot the whole time. Every so often he threw out a word or a phrase, but he didn’t really know what he was saying.
As they reached the end of their journey, Lukas started to snap out of the daze he was in and realised that he was a little closer to seeing Gloopy again. His heart was beating faster as they walked through the corridors. As soon as his bag was in eyesight his was able to relax. He dropped back into his seat and put his hand out to the bag.
“It was good to catch up Lukas,” Stu said, leaning on the back of a vacant chair. “I feel like it’s done us both some good to catch up. It’s easy to forget that we’re all trying our best, and it’s good to take things slow every so often.”
The bag was empty. Lukas’s heart skipped a beat as he opened the bag and found there was nothing inside. He looked around the office and there was no sign of it. Nothing else Stu said sounded like words to Lukas, it all blurred into a mess of sound.
Thanks for reading! Part four will be available Monday!