It was his last day. The boxes were packed, the coffee stains wiped from the desk, the papers all filed or shredded. It's true, they had hosted a breakfast for him three days before, and it was a nice breakfast. Rich pancakes and sweet, salty sausage served up by a cozy diner, just a few blocks away. "You've done a great job, we really appreciate your dilligence," they told him. "Funny that it ended up being what, nearly a year and a half?" "Two years," he replied. "You were just great," they told him. "Just great." He enjoyed that breakfast, even though it was mostly in silence while they talked to each other. They did pay for his meal.
On the afternoon of his last day, he ran into a few of them in the hallway. They were bundled up, heading out for coffee. "Oh yeah, your last day! Be sure to stop by and say farewell," they told him. "I'll try to come over before you leave," a nicer one said. He nodded. "Thanks."
He had enjoyed the two years. The assignment was much longer than he'd anticipated, and the work, even though it was mundane, was a joy compared to his previous assignment as a telephone receptionist, a mere conduit, no one's destination. Here he had responsibilities, and people came to him to ask questions.
The sun set before the day closed, and as his office dimmed, he waited, watching the clock march towards his conclusion. No visitors came. He sat in silence, then picked up his box, glanced around to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything, and walked out.
The cold outside was bracing, and he wished he had leather gloves, any gloves, to protect his fingers as he gripped the cardboard box. He took a deep breath and launched himself forward.
"Hey!" A voice called. He kept walking, the voice tuned out, intended for someone else. "No, wait! I wanted to catch you but got stuck in a meeting." He turned to see the woman who had supervised him, measuring his productivity in folders filed and cases referred, standing shivering in the cold. Her arms were wrapped around herself, little protection from the winter, and a white envelope dangled from her hand.
"I wanted to make sure you got this," she explained, holding out the envelope. "A reference. You were great, really you were. So hopefully this will, I don't know, explain. Help make sure you get another job you like. I know you liked it here." Her voice trailed off, and she looked at the ground.
"Oh, wow, well, thank you. Thank you very much." He bobbled the box around so he could grab the envelope, and managed to slide it under the lid. "That's nice of you."
"Well, I'm freezing, I'd better run back in. But good luck, I mean it."
He nodded, and watched her hurry back to the glass sanctuary of the lobby. He smiled the whole way home. A reference. Someone else's praise, solidified and permanent. He didn't notice the cold, not for a long time.