Today's Reading

But that doesn't mean I'm not a little uneasy as I step into the office to find it empty and dark, aside from the light coming from Gilbert's office in the back corner. It's a typically gloomy Ohio December day, so even with the window blinds open, it's almost pitch black. The tinsel on the office Christmas tree dances silently in the warm air pumping from the heating vent. It's like Die Hard in here, but without Bruce Willis around to rescue me (unless he's crawling through the air ducts, as he's wont to do).

I tiptoe toward Gilbert's office and the golden light peeking out from his partially open door. Should I turn around and run? Am I an idiot for walking in here? This certainly feels like a situation in which I'm either going to get murdered or propositioned, and I can't think of which one of those is less likely coming from Gilbert.

"I am capable," I whisper to myself, repeating a mantra I learned from Manifesting the Badass Within: How to Use Mantras to Supersize Your Life. "I am strong. I can defeat any intruders with my brute strength."

Okay, so that last one wasn't in the book, but it seemed like a good one to add right now.

I hold my two coffees up like a shield and shout, "I have a black belt in karate!" as I kick open Gilbert's door. This isn't strictly true, given that I took one karate class in fifth grade before giving up, but I need to project a strong image.

Gilbert, slumped over his desk, looks up at me. "That's really great, Laurel." He sniffles. "That must've taken a lot of work, but I'm not surprised. You're one of my most dedicated employees."

That's when I realize that Gilbert is crying, and not the kind of eye-leaking you can disguise as allergies. This is full-on sobbing, the kind I never expected to see from my boss, a man who unironically listens to "Never Gonna Give You Up" as his morning pump-up jam.

"Gilbert," I say, putting his coffee down in front of him. "Is everything okay?"

He shakes his head, and I hand him a tissue.

"Some things are okay," he says. "I'm alive. That's good." 

I nod slowly. "So we're starting with the basics here."

He sighs. "Just trying to have an attitude of gratitude."

"I know that's important to you." I point to the poster behind his desk: a waterfall with the words "The best attitude is gratitude" written on it. Honestly, it's a wonder that Gilbert became a regional magazine/website editor instead of a middle school guidance counselor.

He blows his nose with a honk, then lets his head fall to his desk. "Charlene left."

I pause, then sit down across from him on the maroon office chair. "Left to go... where?"

He rolls his head to the side, peering up at me. "My wife left me, Laurel." 

"She left you?" I gasp, which sets Gilbert off again.

"It sounds even worse when you say it," he sobs.

I exhale and look around the room, as if the posters on these office-neutral beige walls might guide me on what to say. "It's her loss," I say.

He sits up and shakes his head. "She left me for our accountant. I'm the one who's the loser. She's gone and her new man knows all my financial details. It's humiliating."

I have nothing else to say—I've only spoken to Charlene once when she stopped by to pick Gilbert up for lunch after one of our in-office meetings, and we mainly talked about their kitchen renovation. Not enough detail for me to decide whether she's a good person, but leaving Gilbert for their accountant might slot her firmly into the "bad" category.

"I brought you a peppermint mocha," I finally say.

Gilbert sits up and sniffs the red cup appreciatively. "You remembered." 

I give him a sad smile. "Yeah. It's your favorite."

He shrugs and takes a sip. "What can I say, I'm a basic bitch."

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