He met her eyes, his expression softening. "If you don't mind me asking, is everything better now?"
Emily almost laughed out loud in surprise at his question. She surveyed him for a half second, her wide blue eyes taking in his hazel ones, unsure of how to respond. Finally, she waved her hand, brushing off his concern. "Oh, yeah. Yep. Everything's fine." She hardly knew this person and wasn't about to share her disappointing boardroom experience from the week before.
"Good. You seemed focused on something important."
"I was. But it's done now. On to the next. Isn't that how it always works in corporate America?"
"Oh, corporate. Yes, I'm familiar with that world." David's eyes grew unfocused, as though looking through Emily to another time. She almost asked about his background but held back her inquisitiveness.
"Well, tech corporate. I guess it's pretty close to the rest of the corporate world."
Emily hesitated, but curiosity won. "Sure."
"Are you happy where you're at? Do you feel like you're fulfilling what you're meant to in life?"
Emily looked at him in disbelief, startled at the bluntness of the question. There was a long silence as she decided how to answer. Who was this stranger, and where did he get off asking such personal questions?
Still, it was a question she knew she needed to answer, at least for herself. She felt a rush of frustration from the top of her head down the length of her spine—not because of the man in front of her, but from the last months, years even, at her company. Happy in life? Yes. Happy in work. No. Not even close.
She had been talking about the barely missed promotions to her husband and friends, but none of them had offered a helpful perspective. In fact, the conversations had felt circular. They had all commiserated with her, offering support but not much else. She needed to know what to do
The weight of the stretching silence finally pulled Emily out of thought. She realized she was standing in the middle of a newly familiar coffee shop contemplating a personal question asked by a man she'd briefly met one time. He was watching her, waiting. Yes, this was an odd scenario, and yet something about the exchange felt comfortable.
"Well, I"—her watch buzzed, and Emily snapped out of almost sharing her private work challenges with a stranger—"I have to go. Nice seeing you again."
"You too, Emily."
She lingered for a moment, about to speak, but held back. Finally, she offered a polite smile and walked back to her table to gather her things. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw David make his way back to his own table, sit down, and pick up his tablet. As she placed each item in her bag, Emily realized how close she'd come to baring her soul. Unemotional Emily, as her close friends called her, didn't do things like that. The nickname wasn't fair, though. Emily felt things deeply; she just didn't show it very often or to people she didn't trust.
As she walked toward the stairs to exit the coffee shop, she turned to offer a tight wave.
"See you soon," David replied waving.
"Yep. See you," Emily called back as she descended the steps.
That was strange, she thought. Very strange.
Her bicycle was parked outside the shop, and she unlocked the chain and put her helmet on. Despite the strangely personal question, she couldn't help feeling as though David was someone she should get to know. He was old enough to be her dad, and yet the way he talked to her didn't feel fatherly. Their short exchange had been like connecting with an old friend.
Emily rode the half-mile to work, locked up her bike, and looked up at the building she'd worked at for the past ten years. She took a breath and closed her eyes.
Today will be better, she thought. It has to be.
She opened her eyes, pushed aside her morning exchange at the coffee shop, and walked inside.
This excerpt ends on page 14 of the hardcover edition.