It was Wednesday, and the break room smelled of cheese, and curry. Tess imagined that to create a smell like this someone would have had to put an already fairly cheap and gross cheese sandwich into an even worse off curry. Then boiled it all up in the microwave, just long enough for it to penetrate the fabric of the cushioned seat she’d just sat in. She considered getting up, but no other seat in here was that comfortable. Plus, in here at least it was quiet. Quiet, and by herself. That’s all she wanted right now.
The past two days had been exhausting, Tess couldn’t remember most of it. There had been a lot of forms the first day. Then no one could really be bothered to train her on anything important so she’d been stuck doing a lot of record tidying and photocopying, and various other no need to think, just function menial jobs. Which she didn’t mind. It gave her chance to find her feet, work out her surroundings, scout the people, look for emergency exits in case any of them annoyed her or worse, didn’t like her. For the most part they seemed okay, not particularly interested in her. There were some she was sure purposefully ignored her, but that was okay. People pleasing had gotten boring, she was just here for the money, clichéd as that sounded.
It did hurt though, the way these women gossiped, in their protective little clique. It felt so much like school. They’d throw furtive glances around the office, thinking they were better than everyone else. They looked at Tess occasionally, then giggled about some inside joke. Yeah, just like school. Tess frowned. ‘Assholes’ she whispered to herself. She glared at the floor for a moment before looking up and around the break room. It really was a miserable place. Just a standard, beige room where people left milk to rot. But, at least, it was quiet. And she was alone.
Without warning a bustle of voices burst in through the doorway, Tess looked up to find the gaggle of gossipers. They paused for a moment when they saw Tess, then carried on talking loudly amongst themselves. Tess looked back at the ground, holding her breath, waiting for them to leave. One minute, two minutes, then they were sitting down around the small table. Tess had taught herself to think fast, and before the well of awkwardness could swell up between their table and her chair she jumped up lightly and walked out of the room.
Tess wandered down the corridor aimlessly, lunch box still in bag, with nowhere to go. But just as she’d taught herself to think fast, she’d also taught herself to be creative. She wasn’t going to just go back and sit down to lunch in the office, she’d find somewhere better. She theorised that this being the middle of London, there would be some patch of reclaimed urban greenery to sit in outside. She turned a corner with renewed energy and headed to the stairs leading from the basement offices. And there was a crying girl. Tess sighed internally, now what was she going to do? She full well knew that an ‘are you okay?’ could turn into a lot more. She could lose her lunch hour, but she would feel like the worst kind of person if she walked by, and she would feel that for a lifetime.
Tess approached the girl. She was just a few years younger than her, small, with red hair. She sniffled, embarrassed, she looked positively tiny. ‘Are you okay?’. The girl shook her head quickly. ‘Do you wanna talk about it?’. She shook her head again. Tess leaned against the wall next to her. ‘That’s okay’ she said, ‘I’ll just be here’. A moment passed, the girl raised her eyes to Tess. ‘It’s just… some blokes y’know?’. Tess nodded lightly, ‘yeah, I know’. The girl raised her head and looked across at the other side of the corridor as though it was supposed to respond. ‘I just don’t get why he has to be so mean’. Tess followed her gaze and crossed her arms, ‘boyfriend?’. ‘No, no’ the girl shook her head, ‘this guy upstairs. No feeling for anyone’. She took a deep breath and crossed her arms. She wiped her eyes again. Tess turned to her ‘you want a cup of tea?’. The girl turned ‘oh no, I’m fine, I’m fine, really’, she sniffed and wiped her eyes again. But Tess didn’t much like that kind of response, and never ever fell for it.