The party was already overwhelming. Alex had relegated himself to a corner, where he was drinking some thin overly-alcoholic eggnog out of one of those red plastic cups and trying to blend in with the wall.

A few of his superiors had come by to ask him some questions about his work, and he had given a few prepared responses, but as the night went on his answers became shorter and shorter, until he was simply just going “hmm” and nodding. This didn’t seem to change anyone’s feelings towards him; they asked questions if they wanted to, and more often than not, they just left him alone.

Josie was there. He was staring at them in the crowd, watching them talk excitedly with their friend Marigold. Part of him was seething, not out of any unfair jealousy towards her for being more rightfully deserving of their time, but more like resentment towards himself for not being able to say anything. Self-loathing. Self-pity. Self-destructive.

What were they talking about? He wished he could get into their heads. Whatever it was, Josie was very animated – horses? Dresses? Horse dress-age? Marigold was her usual self, looking vaguely grumpy, occasionally interjecting a few words but mostly staring at the rest of the crowd.

To Alex, Marigold was… intimidating. Not mean, or dangerous, or bad for Josie – the opposite, really. She seemed to genuinely care about their well-being and want them to get better, and for that, he was always afraid of getting on her bad side. They weren’t friends, they never even spoke, and he did his best to stay out of her hair.

Was he staring too much? He didn’t want to look like he was staring. He started pretending to talk to someone near him, since they weren’t paying attention anyway.

That was his big mistake. Marigold locked eyes with him, then looked back to Josie, and he could have sworn she had just said “You should go talk to him.”

He immediately started to panic; this was a big open room, there wasn’t anything to actually hide behind. They were already looking over. He put one hand over his face, hoping it would make him unrecognizable.

“Mr. Process!” It was too late, they had already seen him.