-- BEGIN RECORDING --
“Hey Toni! I hope you're well?”
“Eric, hi. I'm good, thanks. How are you?”
“I’m fine, doing alright. Which, uh, which scenario are we doing today?”
“It’s the third one, but - sorry, Eric, do you think you could turn your webcam on for this?” Toni used her very best, crisp-and-professional phone voice. “It’s just - we’re supposed to simulate a client experience pretty much one to one, so the professionalism of your appearance is taken into account.”
“Oh, um,” Eric’s soft, breathy tones came through her speakers, wavering. “That, uh, that’s a bit of a problem because my webcam is actually broken.” Alright. Obvious lie.
“I thought you said you’d fixed it?” He’d been claiming a broken webcam for a while now. In the early days of working from home, he’d been happy to turn it on during team meetings and breaks, to maintain a bit of normality. But he swiftly became strictly webcam off. Not unusual behaviour for the techy guys, and not usually an issue, but he was still relatively new to the company and yet to complete his mandatory client conversation training. So there they were.
“Um, I did, but, I think there’s a, uh, c-compatibility problem with the FaceTime update. It won’t turn on at all.” Toni had some affection for the guy, but even she had to admit, he couldn’t act.
“Eric, is there a reason you don’t want to turn it on?” Conspicuous silence. “I know it’s stupid, and you’re never going to talk to a client in your life, but we have to tick this box, man…” she let herself slip into more casual vernacular. She wasn’t exactly established in her position either, and their mutual manager, James, was known for being a stickler for this kind of thing. She needed to get it done, much as it pained her to play the bad guy (especially when Eric was involved). “James wants a recording of the meeting and everything.”
“Oh.” His voice came through small. It tugged at Toni’s heartstrings, hard. She’d been developing a crush on him since he’d started, only a few months before lockdown. He’d shown up with his bad haircut, an upturned nose, soft, chubby cheeks and a cute little belly, just about visible through the generic tech-support-guy graphic tees he wore, and promptly stole Toni’s heart by accidentally kicking her computer’s power button while introducing himself. Profuse apologies and intense blushing followed, and he’d been visibly anxious about approaching her for weeks afterwards, which was difficult since the company wasn’t exactly big. Attempts on Toni’s part to get closer to him had been promising, but their only interaction since lockdown had been the occasional casual chat over email or formal exchange during meetings. So it was awkward!
“Do you want to delay it?”
“That might be best,” it sounded like he perked up a little at the idea. “But - the deadline is the end of the week, isn’t it? James won’t be happy with either of us…” It was Thursday afternoon. James was already unhappy. “It seems like I’ve delayed this as much as I possibly can.”
“Well, if it gives you a chance to-”
“There’s not really anything I can do about it now!” Eric’s voice wavered more, starting to sound properly upset. Toni had never heard him like this before. Sure, he was generally shy, and sometimes his voice slipped down into something almost inaudible, but he’d never started crying or anything.
“Eric - Eric, hey,” Toni tried her best to sound soothing, though a voice through a laptop can only do so much. She already had her webcam on, so she tried to angle it down, make her face look less intimidating. Around the office she had something of an ice queen reputation thanks to how seriously she took her job, and while that was occasionally helpful, she'd definitely prefer more of a kind and understanding vibe under these circumstances. “It’s alright, please don’t get upset. Whatever it is, it’s obviously personal. We can figure this out.”
“It’s embarrassing,” he eventually muttered. “I only have a suit from like, before lockdown, and it, um. I tried it on, but.”
“You have a suit? That’s good.”
“So… what’s wrong with it?”
“It’s t-too small.” Toni’s mouth dried up within seconds. She didn’t know what to say - so instead focused on maintaining a neutral, basically open and caring expression on her face. “I’ve gotten fat. Well - fatter than I was.” It was a struggle to say the least.
“Oh.” Silence on the line. Toni swallowed. “Hey, look - can you get your shirt buttoned at the top? If you just point the camera at your face-”
“My neck, um, it doesn’t…” Toni heard Eric sigh. “Here.” And then he turned his webcam on for, as far as Toni knew, the first time in months. He was sitting in one of those gamer desk chairs with stereotypical nerdy stuff lining the shelves behind him - some models of robots, plenty of sci-fi novels and manga - and lurid horror movie posters taking up his wall space. Already not a good look for his evaluation. But then there was the state of the guy himself.
Toni couldn’t fathom why he’d even bothered to keep his dress shirt on - maybe he’d been struggling with the buttons up until the very last minute. It hadn’t done him any good though, because every single one gaped like crazy - only his head and upper torso were in the frame, almost certainly because his shirt wouldn't do up over his stomach. Toni could see the curve of his fatty chest in intimate detail, as the thin fabric of his shirt was stretched tight across his body, pale skin visible through the gaps between buttons. His top button was entirely undone. The flesh of his new second chin wasn’t exactly massive, but there was clearly too much of it to do that button up comfortably. Those cute cheeks had grown significantly, giving him an absolutely cherubic look. Finally, his sandy brown hair had grown unchecked, now so long he had to tie it back in a ponytail and tuck his fringe behind his ears to prevent it from getting in his eyes - which were screwed up tight, like he was dreading seeing himself in the webcam preview. Sadly, the freckles Toni had noticed on him before had faded, starting to blend in with his now too-pale complexion. Of course he hadn’t been outside much recently, but… wow. She couldn't even guess how much weight he'd put on.
A lot though, it was definitely a lot.