The first time she reached out to me was via Instagram last January, about 11 years after I last saw her. It was my fault, really. She had just posted a string of pictures from her wedding, in which she looked radiant. Her dark skin contrasted with the snow white dress so wonderfully, and her pearly white smile seemed so genuine. She was glowing with pure joy and happiness, and it made me happy to see her like that. So, I double clicked the images on my screen and “liked” them. A few minutes later I had a private message in my inbox.

“Hey Alexis! How are you? I was actually driving by Alpson’s the other day and I thought about our old salad tending days. It’s a shame we lost touch. Is your number still (467) 712-3264?”

Our days working at Alpson’s Family Restaurant felt like a lifetime ago, like some other person had lived them. To be fair, the 15 year old version of myself might as well have been another person all together. I was so naive and sheltered back then, I had no idea what life would bring. I was scared, and I was angsty, just on the brink of entering the real world. Getting the job at Alpson’s was the first grown-up thing I ever did.

Cherry worked in the pantry area with me, where we tossed salads and plated desserts. We spent several Saturday night rushes together, preparing food and talking about life. She was 20 and in college. She was cool. Unlike anyone I’d ever met. She was so laid-back, she never stressed out about the angry servers demanding their meals. She just kept a solid pace and kept working hard. I was able to emulate her calm demeanour quite well after a while.

It took me four days to respond to her pleasant Instagram message. Social anxiety is real. Even though I wanted to talk to her and be nice, I just couldn’t figure out the right words to use. I needed to express how I was happy to hear from her, I enjoyed our time as co-workers, but also, that I had no intentions of talking on the phone or hanging out with her. Not now or ever. I’m too shy. New people, even old-new people are too hard.

“Hey Cherry! So nice to hear from you! I always get Al’s flashbacks whenever I eat a caesar salad. Good times.  And yes, that is still my number! I’m surprised you still have it!” I finally replied.

The first time she called me was last March, two months after our initial exchange. I was driving up Olde Street in a rage, furious from a fight I’d just had with my boyfriend, Ant. When my phone started ringing through the car speakers, I hoped it was him. Instead, the display showed a number I didn’t recognize. Naturally, I couldn’t pick up. A few minutes later, I had a voicemail. I pressed play and Cherry’s voice filled my car.

“Hey hey Alexis! It’s Cherry. How goes it? Give me a shout when it’s a good time to catch up.”

I smiled. Cherry sounded exactly the same. For a moment, I felt like a querulous teenager who wanted nothing more than to ring Cherry up and vent about Ant. I wondered if somehow, through the energy of the universe or something, she’d sensed I was in a bad place on some level and that’s what inspired her to call me. She’d surely have some sage advice to offer, like a wise older sister. She always used to.

But I obviously couldn’t call her back like that. I hadn’t spoken to her in 11 years, and the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize I had never in my life spoken to her like that. All of the things we’d discussed at work had been quite surface level. We had never interacted outside of work. So what excactly would there be to catch up about? We’d have to start at the beginning, even before we met, because aside from some shared evenings together in matching uniforms, we really didn’t know anything about each other. I’d never even told her about Logan. Overwhelmed at the thought of small talk with a virtual stranger, I didn’t call her back.

The first time she texted me was in April, a month after the phone call. At the time, I was standing in the hallway of a strange apartment building next to my current co-worker, Yolanda’s, new roommate, Prince. Prince was a 7 year old mini-pinscher with sad eyes and a vicious bark. That week, I had unintentionally become his dog walker, despite having no previous dog walking experience, or desire of any kind to actually be a dog walker. He was quiet now, as we boarded the elevator. We seemed to be equally wary of each other, but that was eased by our unspoken understanding of the other’s apprehension.

I quickly checked my phone as we began our descent down the 16 floors and noticed I had a message from Cherry.

“Hey Alexis! How are things? We are due to connect. I left you a voicemail a couple weeks back…”

Her use of an ellipsis gave me an unexpected knot in my stomach. Was she mad I hadn’t called her back? I guessed I could text her back with some lame, generic excuse about how I hadn’t gotten her call, or how I had forgotten to message her back because I was so bu–

The elevator swung open and Prince flew out of it at full force, dragging me behind him. He growled and barked at every other male we passed, as I smiled at them politely, wondering what Prince knew about them that I didn’t. I threw my phone in my bag to give him my undivided attention. I completely forgot about Cherry that afternoon, and never ended up replying.

The next time I heard from Cherry was last September, five months after her ominous last text. I was lying lifelessly on the couch intensely snuggling my new best friend, two-month-old Red. Red was a tiny ball of black fluff who loved to curl up on my chest and purr his heart out. The previous night Ant and I had booked a trip to Uruguay for ten days, and it was breaking my heart that I would have to leave Red behind. He trusted us so much, and he was so attached to us, what if he didn’t love us anymore when we got back? What if he was hurt and scarred for life? What if we missed a pivotal point of development in his life? What if he preferred staying with his kittysitters Chloe and Amy over us?

My buzzing phone made both of us jump.

“Hi Alexis! It’s Cherry. How are things? Sent you a message sometime back. Message me back when you have some time my old Alpson’s buddy.”

Ugh. I felt awful. I wished I could reply, but it was too late now. She was so sweet, trying so hard to reach out to me, but I was the worst. I’d put it off too long, and it’d be super awkward to reply at this point. Our whole conversation was just an endless string of unanswered texts. There was no way I could explain why I sucked so much at correspondence. No, the damage had been done. There was no way I could save face and respond now. We were never that close, anyway. So, I didn’t message her back.

The last time she messaged me was last week, over a year after our original Instagram conversation. I was crouched over, cleaning old food out of my fridge. I poured out the leftover gravy from the chicken pot pie last week. Threw out the bag of nacho cheese from our SuperBowl party. Cleaned out the jar of rose sauce that neither of us even liked. It felt good to have a clean fridge. From the corner of my eye, my phone screen lit up brightly.

It was Cherry again, and I felt the same surge of guilt from being such a horrible friend wash over me once more. I glanced at the text and noticed it was different this time. Longer. More formal. More generic. I frowned.

“Hey Alexis! RRSP deadline is fast approaching. I was hoping I could be of some service to you in regards to how to leverage and do things such as build wealth for the future, reduce income taxes paid, eliminate debt and expand the kids’ college funds. Giving me a shout is complimentary and there will never be any obligation. Call or text me! Cherry Lewson.”

I reread the message a few times, trying to make sense of it. It couldn’t be what it looked like. Was she… soliciting to me?! Were all those messages she had sent before just a ploy to get me to meet up with her so she could sell me some bank shit?! No, it couldn’t have started like that. I chose not to believe it. But I really did not appreciate this particular text. I didn’t even have kids to start college funds for. It felt like I was just another name on her contact list.

So, I just didn’t reply.

2018

4 thoughts on “The Ex-Coworker

  1. Haha. This is so good! I had a similar experience last year when someone from my hometown randomly contacted me to try and sell me those pyramid scheme skin products. When I said no she asked if my friends in New Zealand had acne 🤣 I think she legitimately thought I was her key to taking her product international 🙄

    Liked by 1 person

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