The office party had been so much fun. Pete hadn't wanted the fun to ever end. They all got on so well with each other in the office that he couldn't imagine a better place to work. Being happy at work was important to him. Of course he had a life outside his job as well. He had a hobby which sometimes they had teased him about but making sculptures out of ice was something he found fascinating. Pauline the receptionist once told everyone it was just a gimmick and not creative really but he knew that she was jealous of his talent. Pauline could be cutting but he knew she liked him at the end of the day. If she didn't why would she attend his Christmas parties every year as all the others did?
As he vacuumed round the office, and everyone still slept or lay around and waited till they were feeling better, he pressed the nozzle hard into the carpet to try and quieten down the whine a bit. Pete smiled as he remembered the high jinks from the night before. Ron and Kel? To nobody's surprise they'd spent the whole time stretched across the billiards table, thinking only of their shots. They were always deadly rivals when it came to playing billiards. He glanced towards the table. They'd fallen asleep across it now which made him smile.
Mark and Jane and Roger? Wild horses could not have dragged them from the buffet he'd prepared. They were lying on the sofa near the buffet table. The snacks had come from out the walk-in freezer. They weren't so complicated. Just some ham and cheese and salad but at a party for an office food was not what counted. Having fun and partying was what it was about. And his decorations helped to get the party going. On a filing cabinet, sagging in a pool of water, were the remnants of a candelabra that he'd made from ice. It was surprising how long these sculptures lasted. Pete felt proud of the candelabra.
Behind the drone of the vacuum cleaner, somewhere something in the room made a dripping sound.
Pete clicked off the cleaner with his foot and squeezed himself between the cabinets and computers that stood around the rest room area of the office to find what made the noise. Nobody got up to help him. Everyone still slept or didn't move as if they hadn't heard the sound. They must have had a lot of fun the night before, he thought, to lie around like that all morning. Just to have a bit of fun for once was good he muttered to himself as he straightened up a copy of the company calendar. It showed a photo of the mountains round the compound where they worked. The landscape looked impressive but maybe wasn't somewhere that you'd want to stay forever.
Up in the mountains it could get lonely. That's why a tight-knit team was so important. Pete felt warmth for everyone around him in the room. The dripping sound had stopped for now and he started up the vacuum once again to try and get the room back as it was before the party. He didn't mind that he was doing all the work today. Christmas was a time to try and think of other people. It was easy at the festive season for people to feel that no one cared.
The vacuum cleaner spluttered as the tube pulled in a sprig of mistletoe. No one had offered to even peck him on the cheek last night but of course they'd been busy enjoying themselves. Pauline and Miranda? They'd been true to form. With their handbags stationed at their feet, they'd never left the area of wooden flooring with no carpet that functioned as a dance floor at the parties.
He smiled at Miranda, sprawling on the sofa, recovering from the night before and he decided not to try and wake her. He didn't go too near her with the cleaner as sometimes she was grumpy when she first woke up. A pool of water spreading beside her on the sofa was the remnants of a spray of roses that he'd made for her from ice. She'd not been as grateful as he'd hoped but sometimes people could be strange. On Christmas eve, he'd sat inside the walk-in freezer and worked for hours on that.
Pete felt resentment surge within him but then sniggered slightly to himself. He'd drunk too much vodka the night before and now more fragments of the evening drifted back to him. He remembered trying to dance and slipping and after that he'd fallen down. He hoped that no one there had brought a camera.
He pulled himself together and focused on the task in hand. It was time to get things done and someone had to do the cleaning up. He didn't want to ruin the carpet. He was lucky it was easy to store the uneaten food to use again. That walk-in freezer came in handy. Working for a distributor of frozen food, miles away from anywhere, certainly had its benefits. And people didn't come this far out from the city very often. People didn't come and pry. Even head office never sent a manager to visit any more. Pete had to admit he liked it fine that way. And so did all the others. Pete switched off the vacuum clearer and let the engine settle down.
The dripping had started up again and again he looked around to find its source. He glanced towards the buffet table. Mark and Jane and Roger were propped up on the sofa, the one that was made of leather. Their faces looked strained as if they hadn't slept a wink all night. Ron and Kel were still slumped across the billiards table. Miranda lay on the other sofa and Pauline's feet protruded from behind it where she lay. In the background somewhere out of sight, the dripping sound continued, getting faster.
He puffed up his chest and stood up straight up before he made his announcement to everybody in the room. He spoke slowly in a manner that was quiet. He'd always been a bit reserved.
'Okay guys that's the party over for another year. It's time to get some rest.'
No one made a move. Some of them stared at him, while others continued sleeping.
He decided that he'd have to repeat himself and he spoke a little louder.
'Party's over, everyone. There's no more fun for now.'
But no one would respond. Some of them just stared at him and Miranda hadn't even woken up.
They really are ungrateful he told himself. You try and entertain your friends and this is the way they pay you back. Well no one could say he hadn't tried. Sometimes people didn't seem to care. When people didn't care at Christmas people could get hurt.
He thought about the office party that they'd had three years ago. That evening he'd got back from the city with a lorry he'd filled up with supplies and even a hamper for his colleagues as a treat. First he'd thought the noise inside the warehouse was made by kids who'd broken in but when he'd found his torch and headed over it turned out that it was a party in full swing. He still recalled the sadness that he'd felt. No one had invited him. He remembered the look on everybody's faces when he'd pulled the plug and stopped the music. But that was then and this was now. Now he organized the parties and of course that meant he got an invitation every year.
At least Mark was trying to smile as he sat there wedged in the middle of Jane and Roger. At least he seemed to care. And so so to show Pete noticed his appreciation, he picked up Mark before the others, slung him on his shoulder and shuffled off towards the walk-in freezer.
The rest would have to wait their turn to go back on their shelves inside the cold room. Then everyone would have to wait another year till party time came round again. Maybe next year they'd learn to show they valued all his work for them.
And he'd have to find out where that dripping sound was coming from. It would be a shame to spoil the carpet.