The timer on her phone rang, letting Mae know that her lunch break was done. She rolled her eyes, silenced it, and turned back to her sandwich. Getting back to her desk could wait.
She looked up towards the sky where clouds were darkening with rain above the courtyard where she had chosen to take her lunch. “Great, just great” she mumbled as she began to gather her paperwork and laptop before she could get rained on. Of course something like this would happen to her.
Pushing through the glass office door with her arms full of her documents, laptop, and cell phone, Mae made it all the way to her desk before she realized that she had left her half-eaten sandwich outside. She thought briefly about going back to get it but knew the ants had probably already gotten to it by now.
She flipped up her laptop screen and looked at herself in the blackness before pressing the button to power it on. It’s not like she needed the sandwich anyways, she was supposed to be losing weight. Mae leaned back in her chair and pinched her nose, squeezing her eyes shut trying to get a moment of peace and quiet before what she knew would inevitably come next.
“Mae!” A high-pitched voice screeched from across the office. Mae roller her eyes and grumbled as her co-worker, and cubicle-mate, Ali, rushed back into the office, her arms empty and a huge smile occupying her face. “Omyigosh.” She gushed so quickly that it came out as one long word. “You should’ve come to lunch with us, it was so fun! Mark was telling us all about his awesome vacation and a fight he got into with the taxi driver, then I laughed so hard I fell out of a chair, which of course only made me laugh harder and…”
Mae tuned out her cubicle-mate as her laptop began to come to life. Ali always invited her out to lunch, but Mae had been saving forever to buy her dream home, and she knew that saving every penny counted, even if it meant skipping social events like a lunch out with the rest of the office.
The only reason Mae had taken this job in the first place was for the high pay. The hours, the workload, none of it was worth it. Ali was cool, sometimes, but honestly, she hated being here in this office more than almost anything else on this earth.
Mae tuned back in to what Ali was saying for a second, and when she found the bubbly brunette was still rambling on about their fun lunch, she quickly turned her attention back to her computer where an email from her realtor was waiting. She was going on the final pre-sale walk-through of her new home after work today, and she could hardly wait.
The pain in Mae’s neck and back reminded her that she was hunched over too far, but when she sat up straight, she found it did little to minimize the pain. She hadn’t been sleeping well, and sitting in a desk chair all day was making her miserable. Once she had her new house in the nicer neighborhood out of the noise of the city center she would sleep better. She was sure of it.
The minutes of the day seemed to tick by slower than they normally did, until Mae was staring at her screen at 4:59 waiting for the numbers to flip over. The moment they did, she slammed her laptop shut, slid it into her oversized purse, waived to Ali, and headed for the elevators.
She pressed the button, and it lit up, letting her know the elevator was on its way, but when she looked up to the digits, she saw it was still almost twenty floors above here. Mae grumbled and pressed the button again. Then she pressed it a third time for good measure.
“That won’t make it come any faster you know.” Mae looked over her shoulder to find Mark standing there, his laptop bag slung over his shoulder and a smile on his face. Mae just rolled her eyes and looked away.
“Wow, someone’s a little grumpy. What’s the rush? Got a hot date? I’m sure he will wait.” Mark joked.
This only made Mae huff louder as it reminded her that she needed to be losing weight so that she could finally find a man and her parents could stop asking her why she was still single. “If you must know, I have the final walk through of my new home today.” She responded curtly.
“Oh neat. You must be excited.” Mark replied as the elevator finally arrived and the doors slid open. They both stepped inside.
“I am. My life is finally turning around.” As Mae said the words, she realized she didn’t feel the jolt of happiness she expected to feel, and the words just sounded dead, even to her own ears.
“I see.” The smile had left Mark’s face now as well, and he moved closer to Mae as the elevator stopped at another floor and more people stepped on.
Great. Mae hated when people got to close to her. It made her more aware of herself than she already was. She should’ve taken the stairs. Neither Mark nor her made any additional remarks as the elevator made a third stop before finally reaching the ground floor. She stepped out and headed for the employee lot, Mark hot on her heels.
She walked faster, trying to lose him but his quick strides were able to keep up with her small ones no problem. “Well best of luck to you tonight. I hope your home is everything you dreamed it would be!” He called out as she stopped in front of her car.
“I’m sure it will be.” She said in response, her voice sounding just as flat as it did in the elevator.
“Well, if you need somewhere to hang out afterwards, Ali and I, and a few others are hitting Friday night karaoke at the Q.”
Mae grimaced. She hated karaoke. And she also hated the bar on the corner, known only as the Q to locals. “I have to save money, you know, to close on my home.”
Mark nodded in understanding at her decline of his invitation, his dismay clear on his face. “Well if you change your mind, we will be there starting at 7.”Mae nodded and stepped into her car, knowing she wouldn’t be changing her mind on this.
As soon as the door was shut, she pulled up her phone and began to google directions to her new address. She felt a bit nervous in the pit of her stomach, why, she wasn’t sure, because her home was a new build—therefore it had been built exactly to her specifications. There would be no room for error and it would be everything she dreamed.
As she started her car and backed out of her parking space, Mae found herself wishing she had a best friend she could call. Although she had collected a few friends here and there over the years, she didn’t have anyone who would entertain a call this inconsequential, none of them were that type of friends of hers.
Mae had always been focused on her success, focused on climbing to the next rung in the ladder. And it had paid off. She was in her late 20’s with a job that paid her well in her field, her dream car (a black BMW 5 series), and she was about to have her dream house to make her life complete. The house was the last piece that she needed to be happy, she just knew it.
The drive to her new home seemed to take forever, and when she pulled up in front of her soon-to-be-address she could hardly believe her eyes. Where there had once just been a collection of wooden frames, now stood a beautiful blue and white house. Just as she wanted.
Her real estate agent, Carla, stood on the porch jumping in excitement and waiving her over. Mae stepped out of the car, her mouth open in awe. “Well don’t just stand there, let’s go!” Carla called enthusiastically.
Mae obliged and bounded up the front steps of a porch that looked like it came straight from the Country Living magazine. Carla smiled “Just as you wanted it right? A cute like country themed farmhouse!” She didn’t wait for Mae’s response and instead turned to unlock the door.
The two women stepped over the threshold to a home filled with wall-to-wall wooden floors, white walls, and some of the most gorgeous ceiling fixtures Mae had ever seen. Her mouth seemed permanently agape as she moved from room to room judging if everything matched what she had ordered.
As she headed up to the second floor, she felt the shock wear off and a sense of heaviness take its place. She peeked into each of the three bedrooms on the upper floor, dread filling her as she took notice of the master bathroom that had a tub that was clearly built for two. Her list of requirements forgotten; Mae slowly made her way back downstairs to where Carla was waiting.
“So?” There was a gigantic smile on the brunette’s face as she surveyed Mae’s face. “What do you think? Didn’t they do an awesome job!?”
Mae looked around, feeling nothing but emptiness. “Uh, yeah, I guess.”
“What do you mean you guess? This is your dream home!” Carla gushed.
“I didn’t realize it would feel so empty.” Mae’s brows furrowed as she looked around the empty first floor again, at the kitchen she had so painstakingly designed from ideas on Pinterest.
“Well you have to pick out furniture still silly! Then it’ll feel like home!” Carla led Mae out of the home and locked the door behind her. “Now that it is done, the loan officer should contact you in a day or two so you can start signing papers.” Without another word, Carla turned towards her car in the other spot in the two-car driveway and pulled away. Mae was left staring at the house.
No longer did it look bright and blue, rather it looked dark, scary, and a bit boring. Where was the elated feeling she was supposed to have when you bought property? Why could she suddenly only think of all the hours she would need to work to afford furniture that she liked? With a sign she slid back in her car and started the engine.
She was hungry, but didn’t necessarily feel like going home to the same sandwiches she had been eating for days on end to save the money she needed for the closing costs on this house. She wanted hot food, something to warm her stomach and get rid of the cold dread that had settled there as she had walked through the second floor.
Against her better judgement, Mae found herself glancing at the clock and wondering just how early she would be to the Q. She didn’t necessarily want to see her coworkers, but the bar did have a cheap burger, and she didn’t really want to be alone right now either. After all, she pretty much spent all of her time alone these days.
It was only six o clock when Mae slid into a booth at the Q. She wasn’t sure how many people from the office were coming, but she figured she could close out her tab and move after she had finished eating. Mae’s eyes widened as she scanned the menu and all the delicious food they had to offer. She had clearly been eating sandwiches for too long.
A bright-eyed waitress came over to take her order and Mae felt no shame as she ordered a burger with a Cesar side salad. Although she should technically be saving money for the furniture she would need to fill the house, she figured she could worry about that later. Not like she had plans to host guests right away anyway.
Because she ordered her burger medium rare, it arrived within minutes, and Mae relished the taste as she bit into it with a satisfying crunch. Nothing had ever tasted so good.
As she quickly demolished her burger, she noticed an older couple had taken to the dance floor in front of the stage where the bar would later host the karaoke. The two of them had to be in their 70’s, maybe even their 80’s, yet there they were, doing a cute waltz on the dance floor. A smile spread across Mae’s face for the first time in forever, and she felt a small amount of the dread in her heart melt away.
She was so enthralled watching the couple dancing that she barely noticed when someone slid in the booth across from her. “Neat huh? They do this every week.”
Mae jumped in surprise and turned to find Mark sitting across from her. She blushed. “Yeah, but there’s no music.”
“I can fix that.” Mark smiled as he pulled out his phone, pulled up Spotify, and began playing a slow waltz-like song as loud as possible. The old couple paused in their dance for a moment, flashing Mark a smile before turning to begin anew—this time on the beat of the song he played.
Mae was aghast, both at the older couple who seemed to not have a care in the world, and Mark who held his phone in the direction of the dance floor for the entire duration of the song so the couple could dance. And somewhere in her shock, she felt more of her dread begin to fade.
“Why do they do that?” Mae asked a few minutes later when the couple took a break and Mark had the music on pause. “Dance where everyone can see? Aren’t they embarrassed?”
Mark shook his head. “I don’t think so. Why would they be embarrassed?”
Mae shrugged. “I don’t know, they’re old, what if they mess up? Or fall? Or…” Mark held up his hand to stop her.
“I don’t think they care. They are happy being them. They don’t need your approval to be happy.”
She let his words sink in for a minute as the couple finished their drink break and returned to dancing. Mark restarted his music just as Ali and another person Ali didn’t recognize bounded through the door. Ali wasted no time sliding in the booth next to Mae while Mark made room for the other person, who Mae could only assume was another coworker.
She turned back to her salad, and although it was partially wilted, it still tasted delicious. Ali and Mark spoke back and forth across the table joking and laughing about who would be the worst at karaoke tonight.
The waitress returned, and to her surprise Mark was asking Mae what she wanted to drink. Mae quickly started to do some math in her head about what she could afford but before she could finish Mark added, “This one’s on me.” Mae smiled and ordered a cosmopolitan.
When the drinks arrived, the conversation started to flow at the table and Mae found herself feeling lighter than she had in weeks as she exchanged small talk with Mark, Ali, and the other guy whom she had found out was named Tomer.
Around eight in the evening, the bartender stepped on the stage and set up the karaoke set up. Mae glanced at her hands nervously.
“Don’t worry.” Mark smiled from across the table. “If you don’t want to go you don’t have to, but none of us will judge you, or mention this at the office on Monday.” He winked and Mae found that she was smiling in reply.
As she drained the last of her Cosmo, she found that she felt happier than she had in a long time. She had forgotten what it was like to just let go of all the things she felt like she had to do in life and just focus on being in the moment.
To Mae’s relief, Ali decided to be brave and jumped up on stage the minute the bartender announced that karaoke was open for business. Her relief was short lived however when Mark grabbed her arm and pulled her to the dance floor. “No, wait—” She tried to protest but before she knew it, Mark and her were spinning on the dance floor as Ali sang a terrible rendition of “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain.
The two of them spun past the old couple whom were also cracking up at Ali’s terrible singing. Their smiles and laughter were so contagious that Mae found herself laughing as well, even as she tripped over Mark’s feet because she had no idea how to dance whatsoever. Mark’s dancing must’ve been limited too, because after he stepped on her foot for the second time, Mae felt a tap on her shoulder.
She turned to find the old man there, “May I?” He asked as he took her hand. Mae looked over her shoulder to find that the man’s wife had asked Mark to dance. “Don’t worry, she’ll help him with the two left feet.” The old man chuckled as he directed her through the basic waltz step.
Before she knew it, she had mastered the basics of the Waltz and was crossing the dance floor with ease. She felt as light as a butterfly. They continued to dance for what felt like hours. At some point the old couple bowed out and headed home. Mark and Tomer both took turns at the mic while Ali and Mae danced together sloppily.
Sometime around ten in the evening, Mae stopped by the bar to get a glass of water. She had been so busy dancing she had only drank the one cosmopolitan and now felt dehydrated. The other three soon joined her and everyone paid their tabs and prepared to head home.
As they walked to the parking lot, they chatted aimlessly until Mae stopped at her car. To her surprise, Mark stopped too. “I meant to ask you this inside.” He stuttered a little bit. “But can you give me a ride? Had a couple beers and probably shouldn’t drive.”
To her surprise, Mae found herself smiling and saying “No problem, hop in.” Something she would have never said before tonight.
Mark guided her through the twists and turns of the downtown neighborhood until they pulled up in front of a run-down apartment building only a few blocks from her own. Mae surveyed the broken down and ugly exterior, trying not to let her disdain show, but Mark must’ve seen it on her face anyway.
“I know, it looks a little rough on the outside, but I prefer to spend my money to go places, rather than to build myself a palace of things.” Mae let his words sink in and he stood up and exited the car. “Because people are the only thing in life that can ever love you back.” And with that he closed the door and was gone.
Mae watched as he unlocked the front door, giving her one final wave as he disappeared inside. She reluctantly restarted the car and drove the last few blocks home.
She had always hated her apartment building, with its run-down exterior and the kitchens that hadn’t been updated since the late 80’s. But after seeing Mark’s apartment building, she realized that she actually had quite a bit to be thankful for.
As she stripped down and stepped into her shower, Mae reflected back on her evening at the Q. She had more fun than she had in ages, and besides the burger and the drink Mark had bought for her, the evening had been almost completely free. She was surprised to find herself calculating if she could afford to do something like she had just done every week.
And she could. Suddenly, she found herself calculating if she could go on the work weekend retreat that Ali had been talking about for weeks. And what about all those work lunches? She’d love to attend those as well…but in order to do everything, she would have to let her dream house go. The mortgage was massive, the furniture would be expensive, and the utility bills were bound to be worse still. If she moved into the home, she had toured today, she would be in debt for several years to come.
Strangely enough, the thought of letting her dream home go didn’t scare her anymore. Where she was once determined to do whatever it took to have that house, Mae found herself thinking that maybe she would be better off without it. When she had walked through those white halls today, she hadn’t felt the elation she had expected to feel. But when she had spun around the dance floor with Mark and her new friends, now that had brought her joy. And if she let that home go and resolved to live in her apartment a bit longer, she could take the time to look for a new job she actually enjoyed, and start taking ballroom dance classes too.
After finishing her shower, Mae tucked herself into bed, already rehearsing what she would say to Carla tomorrow about letting the house go to the market and make some other family very happy. And for the first time in years, Mae fell asleep easily, not noticing the noise outside, with a smile on her face.