Connor Owens made it difficult to say “no.”
As David stored the remainder of his clothes inside the last moving box, he listened with feigned interest while Connor, his soon-to-be ex-boss, tried in vain to convince him to stay in Texas.
“Okay, what if I give you the big office on the second floor, the one with the window overlooking Lake Monroe and the golf course? How does that sound?”
David laughed as he threw in one last pair of jeans, closed the box, and taped it shut. He scribbled “bedroom” on one side of it with a permanent marker before adding it to the huge stack of moving boxes beside his front door. “And what about Paul, your business partner—the man who presently occupies that office? I appreciate the thought, but I don’t think he would.”
Connor waved a hand in the air like he was swatting away a fly. “Paul Shmaul. That office is too big for him anyway.”
David shook his head and smiled. Good ole Connor. If they hadn’t graduated from the same university or worked closely together over the past five years, he probably would’ve swatted him out the door by now. If nothing else, he was entertaining, and his antics did help lighten the mood and break up the monotony of packing boxes.
David walked to the kitchen, with Connor trailing right behind him, and opened the refrigerator. The only items he hadn’t stored inside his travel cooler were three bottles of soda and several old ketchup packets that had been there only God knew how long. He picked up two of the sodas and handed one to Connor, who leaned against the kitchen counter and crossed his ankles.
“So, have I tempted you into staying yet?”
David hopped on the counter and twisted the top off his bottle. “No, but I admire the effort.”
Connor grinned and took a swig of his soda. “All joking aside, I’m going to miss you, and I’m pretty sure I speak for everyone else at Owens Industries too. We’ve come a long way with you as our project director, and it won’t be the same without you. I mean that.”
David could feel the heat creeping up the back of his neck, and he looked down at his shoes, hoping Connor wouldn’t notice his embarrassment. He wasn’t used to receiving compliments over his work—from anyone—so he was slightly taken aback. Connor was an excellent boss, but he had a very gruff exterior and rarely handed out accolades of any kind.
“Thank you. I’ve enjoyed working for you, and I’ll come back and visit as often as I can. I’m just moving to Utah, not the other side of the moon.”
They both laughed.
“Okay, I know you mentioned something about a construction company,” Connor said. “Explain to me again what you’ll be doing.”
David set his bottle on the counter and retrieved his wallet from his back pocket. “I was hired as the Construction Manager for Mason Brothers Contracting in Lehi.” He pulled one of his new business cards from the confines of his wallet and handed it to him. “It’s more hands-on than what I do now, but I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t done any construction work in a long time, and I’ve missed it.”
The white business card had gold edges and MBC was imprinted on the front in big gold letters. As Connor turned it over and over in his hand, David could see the corners of his mouth slowly curl upward into a grin.
“Fancy,” Connor remarked. “I imagine this comes with an increase in your salary, too, right? If you don’t mind me asking.”
David ran his fingers through the stubble on his beard while contemplating his answer. “It does, but that’s not why I accepted the job. I need a change in my life, and this opportunity fell into my lap at the right time. I feel like I’ve been going through the motions lately, day in and day out. I don’t know how else to explain it, but it’s like I’m stuck in a rut, and I need a new adventure in my life. Does that make sense?”
Connor grunted before taking another swig. “I have a wife, three kids, two dogs, two gerbils, one cat, a mortgage, and a ten-year-old truck that runs on a wing and a prayer. What do you think?”
David tried to stifle his laughter, but he couldn’t, and Connor threw his bottle cap at him when he nearly rolled off the counter from laughing so hard.
“Come on, let’s start loading these boxes in the van so you can come by the office one last time and say your goodbyes before everyone gets off work. I know they’d love to see you before you leave.”
David slid off the counter and followed him to the foyer where the mountain of boxes waited for them. It was a slow and arduous task boxing up his life, but he was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just a couple more days and he would be moving into his new home in Utah and starting a whole new chapter in his life. As far as he was concerned, it couldn’t come soon enough.
* * * *
David’s heart leaped to his throat when he opened the breakroom door at work and discovered his coworkers had put together a small going away party in his honor. Streamers hung from the ceiling and windows, and party horns blared all around him. For a moment, he was honestly speechless.
“Gotcha!” Connor yelled behind him.
He looked at his friend and shook his head, astounded that he was able to help pull off such a feat without spilling the beans. Connor could sell oceanfront property in Oklahoma to an unsuspecting client without batting an eye, but he couldn’t keep little secrets, like a going away party, to save his life.
The table in the center of the room was covered with presents, drinks, and a cake, and his coworkers gathered around him for hugs and handshakes as soon as he stepped into the room. He had to admit, it tugged at his heart and made him feel a bit reluctant about leaving. Each person in the room had touched his life in some way or other over the past five years, whether it was working a project together or just bending an ear when it was needed. During his time with Owens Industries, he’d not only gained valuable work experience, but he’d also made friendships that would last a lifetime.
“I’m going to miss you so much!”
He turned to his right, but before he could identify where the soft, feminine voice was coming from, he was pulled into someone’s tight embrace and nearly choked on a sea of bouffant hair and lilac-scented perfume that made his eyes water. Whoever it was had a death grip on him that was hard to wrangle his way out of, and when she finally let go and took a step back, he was face-to-face with Ellen Keyes, who worked the receptionist’s desk at the entrance in the main lobby.
“I’ll miss you too Ellen,” he stammered as he stood upright and tried to breathe normally again.
“When I started working here a couple of years ago, you were the first person who truly welcomed me and made me feel at home,” she said. “That meant so much to me, and I’ll never forget it. Promise you’ll keep in touch?”
David flashed her a big smile and nodded. “I promise. You just take care of yourself and that little boy of yours, okay?”
They talked a while longer before a couple of the other women grabbed her attention and motioned for her to join them.
“She has a son?” Conner asked as she walked away.
David chuckled and rolled his eyes. “Why am I not surprised you didn’t know that?”
Conner shrugged, and they went to the table where everyone was gathering around the food and someone was passing out plastic cups full of what looked like green punch. When they all had a cup, one of his coworkers, Robert, stood on a chair and whistled loudly to get everyone’s attention. “I’d like to make a toast!”
David cringed. He tried not to show just how nervous he was over what Robert might say, but he knew from experience what a jokester he was, so anything was possible.
“To David Maxwell, one of the hardest working project directors I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. You’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty to get the job done on numerous occasions, and I know I speak for everyone when I say we’ll miss you and we wish you the best of luck at your new job. To David!”
They all raised their cups in the air and saluted him, shouting “Cheers!” and giving him pats on the back.
“Speech! Speech! Speech!” they bellowed.
David swallowed hard. He hated speaking in front of his coworkers almost as much as he hated giving presentations to potential clients he’d never met before. Conner gave him a push, and he begrudgingly stood on top of the chair when Robert hopped down. He cleared his throat a couple of times before trusting himself to speak coherently.
“Thank you, Robert. This is so awesome, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. It’s been an honor working with you these past five years. I’ve learned so much from every single person here, and I have no doubt Owens Industries will continue to grow and prosper because there’s something special here you don’t find just anywhere and that’s teamwork.”
He smiled when they all nodded in agreement and raised their cups to him.
“I’ll miss this place, but I’ll come back and visit as often as I can, and I hope you’ll keep in touch with me too. And now I happily pass the torch to whoever has the unfortunate task of trying to keep Connor straight. I wish you the best of luck.”
Connor raised his cup and yelled “I’ll drink to that!” as David stepped down and the room filled with laughter. A couple of the women started cutting and serving the cake, and for the next hour or so, he walked around the room, collecting phone numbers and email addresses and saying his goodbyes. Some tears were shed, but overall, it was a happy occasion, and he left Owens Industries with a smile in his heart and great memories he would carry with him the rest of his days.
* * * *
David closed the apartment door behind him and wiped his brow after loading the last of his boxes onto the moving truck he’d rented for the trip to Utah. He walked from room to room one last time, checking closets and making sure he’d left nothing behind. As he passed through the hallway, he rubbed his hand along a rough spot in the wall where he’d patched it after his one and only attempt at skateboarding.
He laughed when he thought back to the embarrassing event three years ago when he’d made the mistake of practicing on the hardwood floor in the hallway and attempted to do a trick. He’d fallen off the board and sent it flying into the wall, leaving a hole that was nearly eight inches wide but not nearly as big as the gaping wound to his pride. He gave the skateboard to a coworker the very next day.
Other memories drifted through his mind, like the numerous parties he’d thrown during football season, grilling on his balcony during the summer months, and his parents visiting for the holidays. Each memory was special in its own way and made him smile. Now that the rooms were emptied, his footsteps left an eerie echo in the large space, and it was so quiet, he could hear the cars on the street and a baby crying in one of the other apartments on the floor.
David went to the kitchen and retrieved the last bottle of soda from the fridge before turning off all the lights and making his way to the front door. He looked around one last time and held his bottle in the air for one final salute before leaving.
“To new beginnings.”
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