Most of Mónica’s colleagues arrived between nine and ten. She liked getting to work at 8:30am. The atmosphere still felt like dawn, not the start of the morning, and she could drink her first cup of coffee without interruptions, either in the whitewashed breakroom or on the adjacent 11th floor patio, with easterly views.
Before the economic crisis hit last year, her company had splurged on an espresso machine for the employees. The strong aroma of an Italian blend stimulated Mónica’s groggy imagination, transporting her to the location of a gourmet coffee commercial, starring a silver-haired fox for an actor.
A sip from a plastic cup returned her to reality. A lazy stare looked past the overhead lights reflecting in the window. Dark clouds threatened to storm above a choppy Mediterranean Sea, but no drizzle sprinkled the glass. Can’t wait for summer, Mónica thought, as she finished her coffee. The Human Resources Director stood outside, lost in thought, as she smoked near the low patio wall. Her good looks and young age made Elena a frequent target of office gossip, but Mónica had always gotten along with the raven-haired Ice Queen.
“Good morning, Elena,” she said, grabbing the collar of a fleece cardigan she kept at the office to protect her from the arctic air-conditioning. “Why are you out here without a coat? It’s freezing.”
“Oh. Good morning, Mónica.” Elena’s tone chirped with surprise at the unexpected company. “How are things?”
“Really, really tired.”
Elena grinned and took a deep drag of her cigarette. “Me, too,” she said. “I didn’t get home until almost ten last night. My husband wasn’t too pleased.”
She rolled her eyes as she blew smoke toward the ominous sky and rocky sea. Mónica laughed. “He sounds like me when it comes to Juan.”
“Does he come home late a lot?”
“Sometimes. Usually when the kids have been acting up.”
Elena beamed at the subject of children. “And how are your little angels?”
Mónica described her morning, from waking up at 6.15am without the need of an alarm clock, to Alba’s tantrum at breakfast, to her clueless husband who asked to leave early when his wife was covered with food, milk and juice.
Elena’s face slackened at the intimate details and her agape mouth said, “Oh.”
“Do you have kids?” Mónica asked, knowing little about her superior’s personal life.
“Two teenage step-sons.” Elena grinned to show she had regained her composure. “They just think about girls and football.”
Mónica shuddered. “I am not looking forward to my kids becoming teenagers. They are a handful as it is, especially my youngest—she’s a monster.”
“Being the step-mom...” Elena took a final drag of her cigarette. She exhaled and continued, “I let their father do most of the discipline and stay out of complicated issues,” stomping the burning butt on the ground. “Alright, Mónica.” Elena flashed a polite smile and tapped her watch. “Time to work. Have a good day.”