Brian saw it first and people at the office noticed it eventually. Of late Julie didn't talk much. It was apparent only because she was the talkative one, always cheered everyone up and asked if someone needed help (offering to hold a door open for someone with two hands full, for an instance), if they got to eat on a busy day or whether their family had fun past sunny weekend and so on. Some liked it, few didn't care: it is better this way now; after all this is a workplace not a club to socialize- someone told Brian during a coffee break. He didn't say anything.
He was on the other side of the spectrum, the quiet one. He was only visible, not heard. Because of that people didn't talk to him much. Inside his head, he talked to himself incessantly though. Brian liked when she had stopped by the cubicle and wanted an update. She was the pretty mail woman, brought necessary documents from the main office once a week. Although he hardly had anything to report, except may be a new book or a movie that he had purchased, he wanted to hear what she had to say. Something. Anything.
So Brian kept wondering for days what had happened to Julie that changed her personality. Only thing he knew about her that she was divorced and had a two-year-old autistic son. Two bad news, one followed the other to describe someone's life.
"Oh, he is doing great now with this new doctor that I have found," she said or some variations of that when someone asked just out of courtesy.
Brian thought she was somehow paying for her over exuberance. As though there had to be a balance in everything in this world, one cannot even have too much of happiness. What if the positive reinforcement was summoned afterwards, balancing the misfortune that was handed down to her as an active psychological process required for survival? He didn't know her full story so he couldn't decide. Also he couldn't discard the second idea because he caught her wiping tears off with the back of her hand and putting the smile back on the other day as she was walking out of the elevator. She didn't see Brian seeing her role switch. Her face was the face of the society that encouraged tears, old age and poverty to be private, to be expressed only on elevators, in restrooms or at home. Since then Julie became little more complex, layered for him.
In life, time is finite, if one decided do something, there would only be a small window of opportunity after that the window would disappear, for good. Instead of Julie, an older woman greeted him handing the weekly paperwork.
"Julie had left the job," she said, "I don't blame her, it was taking too much time away from her son," the older woman surely added her own spin.
Whole office knew something was going on before she quit, but no one cared to ask, including him. On the way home, Brian went for a long walk along the river, watched the sun go down behind the hills and in time everything settled down on both worlds.
"Feel your heart beats; your chest moves up and down," behind the low music of a synthesizer a soothing female voice spoke in second person present indefinite.
Last few days Brian was obsessed with a CD for meditation, he purchased from a bookstore. Every time, he fell asleep half way into the track. His mother had passed away when he was two, listening to the music he liked imagine his mother telling him a bedtime story and one was supposed to fall asleep just like that. Would this take care of one of many shortcomings of his personality of being motherless? Were there signs of that all his potential girlfriends could see before even knowing him? Shirt not tucked in, hair disheveled, color coordination way off, sad and kind eyes that are too shy to make eye-contact etc?
Here comes the orphan, he will have needs, insecurities and clinginess. And they took their elbows off of the table (a sign of disinterest he read in a book about body language) and perhaps began planning for the rest of the night before even talking to him? Although technically he wasn't an orphan, his father and stepmother had raised him but they were always busy, never close. All he remembered were long days joined by nights and he had played with his toys and video games when he was young and read books and watched movies when he grew up.
He would have liked to read more into the interactions Julie and he had at the office, if she had favored him over the others and expected something else behind her fake smile. Whether she wanted to tell him something more about herself or her son or the bustard that had left her? Brian wouldn't know those now.
Brian spent a lot of time pondering about what could have happened after something had happened. He did that with such fervor as though he would alter it if he could and create a different past. Things like: his mother wouldn't die, his father wouldn't ignore him and stepmother would get married to a different guy or some major wars in history would have gotten solved by diplomacy, hundreds of thousands of civilians wouldn't die collaterally. The present would have been different if the past was, he believed.
Few months had passed, Julie didn't come back to say goodbye to anyone even though Brian hoped she would. He rejected the idea that he was any special otherwise she would have at least mentioned it to him that she's leaving. She probably had planned her resignation and couldn't be as friendly at the time. She had no room for any other thoughts but to take care of her son, making him better over time.
Somewhere, not too far into the suburb, a child would grow out of a mild autism. His mother would do anything for him. It made Brian happy, he began to flap his hands the way he used to when he was young.