In the heart of a bustling city, the towering glass and steel structure of Benson & Hedges Inc. stood as a testament to modern corporate success. It was here, on the 12th floor, amidst a sea of cubicles and the constant hum of activity, that I found myself, a new addition to the marketing team. The office, with its open-plan layout and minimalist decor, was a beehive of productivity, each employee a dedicated worker bee.

One particularly bright Tuesday morning, I was deep in conversation with Liza, my mentor and guide in these early days. Liza was a middle-aged woman with a no-nonsense attitude, yet she possessed an underlying warmth that made her approachable. We were discussing the intricacies of our latest project when Mary breezed by.

“Morning, Liza! Oh, hi there!” Mary’s voice was like a warm breeze, disrupting the usual office monotony.

Liza looked up, her face breaking into a smile. “Mary, meet our newest team member. This is Alex.”

Mary extended her hand, her smile reaching her eyes, yet not quite touching them. “Welcome to the team, Alex! It’s great to have you with us.”

I shook her hand, struck by her warmth. Mary was in her early thirties, with a cascade of chestnut hair and an aura of kindness. However, as she smiled, I noticed a shadow in her eyes, a sort of melancholy that seemed out of place with her cheerful demeanour.

“Thank you, Mary. It’s great to be here,” I replied, trying not to stare.

After a few pleasantries, Mary excused herself, gliding back to her workspace with an elegance that seemed almost out of place in the office environment. I watched her go, the image of her sad eyes lingering in my mind.

“Mary’s amazing, isn’t she?” I asked Liza, unable to curb my curiosity.

Liza’s eyes softened. “She is. A wonderful soul, truly. Mary’s one of those rare people who genuinely cares about others. She’s a great friend, honourable, a free spirit, and so respectful. We’re lucky to have her.”

“But,” I hesitated, “she seemed… sad?”

Liza nodded, her expression turning solemn. “Yes, there’s a story there. But it’s not mine to tell. You’ll find that Mary’s an open book about most things. Maybe, in time, she’ll share her story with you.”

That brief interaction and Liza’s words sparked a curiosity in me about Mary. Over the next few weeks, I observed her from a distance. She was always polite, her laughter often ringing through the office, but there was an unspoken sorrow that seemed to cling to her like a shadow.

Our paths crossed occasionally, brief exchanges that were always pleasant and filled with Mary’s genuine interest in how I was settling in. Yet, that inexplicable sadness never left her eyes, and it made me wonder about the story hidden behind her smile.

One afternoon, as autumn painted the city in hues of orange and gold, I found myself alone in the break room with Mary. She was gazing out the window, lost in thought, the afternoon light casting a melancholic glow on her face.

“Beautiful, isn’t it? How the seasons change,” she remarked, her voice tinged with a wistfulness that matched her gaze.

“It is,” I agreed, joining her by the window. “Mary, if you don’t mind me asking… Liza once mentioned that there’s a story behind your sadness. I hope I’m not overstepping, but I’ve been curious since the day we met.”

Mary turned to me, her expression unreadable for a moment. Then, with a small sigh, she offered a small, sad smile. “It’s okay. I suppose it’s quite apparent, isn’t it? My husband, Michael, passed away two years ago. We were high school sweethearts. Life… hasn’t been the same since.”

I felt a pang of sympathy. “I’m so sorry, Mary.”

She shrugged slightly, her gaze returning to the window. “Thank you. It’s been a journey. I’ve learned to find joy in the little things, to carry on, because that’s what he would have wanted. But some days, the sadness is just there, a quiet companion.”

“I can’t even begin to imagine,” I said softly.

Mary looked at me, her eyes reflecting a depth of emotion. “Everyone has their story, Alex. Mine just happens to be written on my face, I guess. But don’t worry, I’ve found my peace with it. I’ve realized that it’s okay to carry sadness and joy together. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

Her words struck a chord in me. Here was a woman who had experienced a profound loss, yet she chose to embrace life with a kind of quiet strength that was both inspiring.

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