After the final line of customers, attendees and registrants alike, were handled, the registration booth saw a lull. Sharon was the first to break the silence.
“What are you doing when you’re not volunteering for events?” she asked of her younger co-worker, Peter.
“Well, mostly I work. I’m clerking for a small local law office. Part time. Taking a break before attempting the Bar. You?”
“I’m unemployed. I mean, I’m self-employed,” she laughed and shook her curly dark hair. “So I have plenty of time. Plus I have a friend who’s speaking here. I’m going to catch the end of her presentation when my shift is done.”
“That’s cool.” Peter turned around and pulled a program out of the box. “There’s a lot of folks I’d love to hear. It’s packed.” Peter looked up as a man hesitated in front of the booth. “Can I help you?”
“I’m volunteering today and I have to report to registration?” the brown haired man said. His hands vaguely waved towards the booth Sharon and Peter stood in. “And I need a badge I guess?”
Sharon efficiently got a badge from one of the many cardboard boxes stowed under the folding table and handed it to the man. “White is for volunteers. Green is for attendees, gray is for speakers, and black is staff. Don’t worry, it’s easy.” The man accepted it from her, hung it around his neck, and thanked her. “You. You look familiar,” Sharon offered. “I’ve seen your face before. I think I follow you on Twiter.”
The man peered at her, then broke into a smile. “You’re FoPoFemale! Yes! I’m so glad to meet you finally!”
“Yes, even though I moved. But Moreland doesn’t have a cool short nickname. My name is Sharon,” and they shook hands over the counter. “And you’re NeedsCoffeeNow. Of course.” She pointed at Peter. “That’s Peter.”
“Hello. You can call me Gerry. My Twitter handle is a mouthful. Uh, I’m a bit early. Assuming this is where I report to, I’m going to go get something from the taco cart across the street. Do either of you want anything? It’s totally my treat. I insist.”
Sharon shook her head no and thanked him, but Peter had been hungry all day and humbly accepted after a weak, but honest, attempt to pay. As Gerry went to order, Sharon said, “That’s funny. You’re getting tacos because I volunteered here. He saw me tweet about the orientation meeting last week and asked if there was still room for more volunteers. And here he is.”
“Well thank you very much! That’s really kind of him. And he’s kind of cute, too.” Peter pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Is it weird that I want to look up his Twitter now?”
“No, I think you’re fine. And I think he’s single if that’s why you’re asking.” Sharon’s chuckles trailed off.
Another volunteer showed up after a bit and soon after, Sharon was free to wander the conference. She made her way to the secondary conference room where her friend was in the middle of her presentation, talking about innovation and technology and social media. The crowd was small but attentive and enthusiastic, and they gave the woman a standing ovation, which the woman blushed to accept. She stood at the side of the stage afterward and received a line of well-wishers and inquisitors, one of whom was Sharon, who beamed as she saw how successful her friend had been. She hung back until the crowd dispersed.
“I just have one question, Ms. Conley,” Sharon said when she was the only one left. “What kind of connections does someone need to speak at a big event like this?”
“I owe you so many thanks for telling me about this and putting me in touch with the Davids,” Laurie Conley said to her friend. “I’d split the speaker’s fee with you, at least, if you’d let me.” The two women hugged.
“Nah, I’m just happy to see you doing so well. You know I don’t need the money, and this is your job, making connections. Well, sometimes connections make you.” Sharon paused. “I don’t know what that meant but it sure sounds good, doesn’t it?”
“It does, and yes, they do.” Laurie looked conspiratorially and lowered her voice an octave. “In fact, at the kickoff party last night, I met someone. She’s in town for the weekend, and we had some drinks, and one thing led to another, and another thing led to her hotel room, and, well…”
“You are giggling like a teenager! That’s scandalous! Girl, I am so proud of you. I like seeing you happy. So that’s why you were extra fired up for today!” The two women laughed and hugged, but when Laurie offered to bring Sharon along to get drinks with her new lover, Sharon declined. “It’s a bit soon, don’t you think? I’d just be a fifth wheel.” Over protestations, Laurie finally accepted, and the friends parted.
Sharon wandered out onto the main floor of the conference, and drifted with the crowd for a while, but she felt tired from working her shift and the press of people and finally left the event. She got on a city bus as the day turned to evening, and she took a seat in the middle, not near the back or the front. She put her headphones on over her big bushy hair and listened to music and she may have danced in her seat a bit.
So she was startled when a man leaned into her space and waved. She glared at him until she recognized him, and then she relaxed and smiled and removed her headphones. “Hello, Rene. That freaked me out.”
“I am sorry I am sorry I didn’t mean to scare you,” Rene said. His tall thin frame was curved down towards her but now, carefully, respectfully, out of her immediate space. “Can I sit down? I haven’t seen you since your going away party!” She patted the seat next to her.
“Yes, don’t worry. I was lost in thought. How have you been? Please tell me the place fell to pieces when I left.”
“That sounds like sarcasm but it’s kind of true. Things have not been the same in the office since you left. They still haven’t filled your position and Kim can’t handle the paperwork.”
“It’s been 4 months. They… you know what? I don’t really want to talk about the office. I think, after what you said at my going away party that you’d have left by now, too, though.”
“Oh, wow, that party…” Rene’s head snapped back in remembrance. “Right, right. I never got to thank you for that! If you hadn’t suggested that place, I never would have met, well, the woman I’m dating now.”
“You did disappear before the night was over. After drinks, we went to another place for pool, and another place after that for food. I’d wondered where you’d vanished to. You met someone?”
“The bouncer there, remember her? She was as tall as me but super fit. Dawn, I think her name was. She kept talking to me and after my third drink I finally confronted her about it. She liked that I wasn’t intimidated by her and gave me her number. It was strange, but it was also good. We’re still seeing each other.”
“The connections we make, huh? That’s terrific. I’m super happy for you.” Sharon smiled but it never reached her eyes. And then she noticed where the bus was, and rang the bell, and gathered her bag into her lap.
“How about you, though? What have you been up to since you left?” Rene asked, not seeing her communicate how done she was with the conversation.
“It was great seeing you again, Rene, and tell everyone in the office that I’m doing well. At least the ones I liked.” The bus pulled to a stop, and she stood up, and Rene took her hint and stood up, and he offered her a hug before she left, and she accepted it. Putting up her headphones again, she left the bus.
Sharon walked the three blocks from the stop to her apartment in a triplex, and went inside, and set down her bag. She hummed along with the music, and she made a simple sandwich for dinner, and she got on her computer and posted on Facebook about the amazing conference and all the people she met and saw and how well Laurie had done. The post was a public one, that could be seen by anyone who looked at her page, not just her friends and family.
In fact, out of all the people on Facebook, on the internet as a whole, there was only one person who could not see the post at all, because that person had deleted their relationship status, and had unfriended Sharon, and had blocked her.
The one and only person who mattered.