Authors: Niecey Roy
Tags: #Another Shot At Love
My U-shaped cubicle was decorated with photographs of my family and of me with Lexie and Roxanna throughout the years, and tacked amongst all the photographs were sketches and colored pencil drawings I’d done over my breaks. Splashes of color everywhere, some merely silly doodles, while others were more disciplined, like the colored pencil drawing of the vase full of flowers that had sat on my supervisor’s desk for two weeks before they’d wilted and been thrown into the trash. Surrounding myself with images was a great distraction when my eyes swam from looking too long at the computer monitor.
My cubicle was as cozy as a gray corporate cubicle could be.
The morning after my almost one-night-stand with Matt, I trudged down my team’s aisle in the data entry department, a large latte in hand, exhausted. I would’ve called in sick, but I had to save my vacation time for a trip to Colorado with Lexie and Roxanna. We’d been planning the trip for months now.
I sat down at my desk, logged onto the computer, and checked my email. There were three new messages in my inbox.
The one from Richard, I promptly shit-canned without reading. The one from my supervisor I opened. Based on my last week’s evaluation, I needed to increase my claim output in order to meet goal. Doable, if I cut out the internet surfing. I scribbled “291” on a pink sticky note and stuck it to the top right-hand corner of my monitor.
I continued on to the third email; it was from Roxanna:
Did you tell Richard you weren’t interested in making babies?
Scrunching my nose up, I tapped the keys quickly:
You are not going to believe this. He dumped me INSIDE OF MARIO’S ITALY. And then he TOOK OFF!
A second later, Roxanna’s golden tan face appeared over the gray partition separating our side-by-side cubicles, her amber eyes wide. I nodded once. Roxanna disappeared from view.
Roxanna wrote back:
Oh my God. You were dumped by a man-child who lives in his parents’ basement.
I stuck my tongue out at the computer screen. After a pause, I wrote back:
It’s okay, though. I’ll tell you about the rest of the night on our lunch break. Something interesting happened.
I puckered my lips.
meant she didn’t believe me. I hadn’t exactly been a ball of excitement lately, almost to the point of being predictable. I couldn’t wait to tell her the real story. Hopefully, it’d be enough to send her into shocked silence—a first. I looked at the clock display in the corner of the computer screen. It would be a long four hours until lunch before I could spill the story.
Flipping on my MP3 player, my thoughts were with Matt; his kiss, his arms around me, the smell of his cologne. I was lost in Incubus, lost in my memories—or maybe they were more like daydreams—when I caught a whiff of pepper and pine.
I almost gagged. There was only one person I knew who wore that scent of cologne and I wanted nothing to do with him.
I pretended Richard wasn’t standing behind me. Then he coughed. So I pretended I didn’t hear him—I had my earbuds in, after all. It seemed like a good cover. For all he knew, I was rocking out to Slayer on max volume. Then he cleared his throat.
Fearful he’d draw unwanted attention, I turned around on a sigh.
His coy smile was enigmatic. Maybe he’d come by to repay me for his meal. If that was the case, I was interested in what he had to say. The receipt from Mario’s Italy was stuffed somewhere inside my purse. I could even circle his portion with a red pen and highlight in yellow—I was helpful like that.
“Hey, you,” he said and gave me a wink.
I nearly fell out of my chair.
Though I should have been furious he’d had the nerve to come to my desk after what he’d pulled last night, I was mostly just astounded. Shocked to speechlessness. His flirting was unexpected…and awkward. I was embarrassed for the both of us. Covertly, I peeked my head out of my cubicle and down the aisle to see if any of his IT buddies had come along for another show. No one was there.
I scooted my chair back against my desk, away from prying eyes, though it really didn’t give me much privacy from Tricia, watching from across the aisle. And Roxanna wasn’t missing anything, peeking from the other side of the partition.
“Yes, Richard,” I finally asked when it was clear he’d been waiting for me to speak.
He leaned against the partition between mine and Roxanna’s desks, and I quickly warned, “Don’t do that! It’ll fall.”
He reared back as if he’d been touched by a cattle prod.
Roxanna’s mouth hung open in mute shock, but I ignored her. I needed to stay focused. I had no clue what Richard was up to, but his presence made me edgy. I had thought—no, I was
—I had seen the last of him after his dump-n-dash stunt. This guy was a shifty one, for sure.
“So, I was thinking we should head out on the town for some sushi.” He gave me a short nod, a big smile, and another wink, this time with his other eye.
It couldn’t be helped—my jaw fell open and I gaped at him. I wasn’t sure what would be more unpleasant, listening to him talk about his videogame helmet while we waited for sushi, or the possibility of him reenacting last night and leaving me with the check. Sushi was expensive.
The only explanation for this harebrained idea of his was that he’d hit his head on the way in to work. He had amnesia.
Yes, that has to be it.
I finally snapped my mouth shut because the fly swarming around my desk made me just as nervous as Richard’s dinner invitation.
Tricia was doing a poor job of pretending she wasn’t listening. She caught me staring at her and quickly went back to shuffling through the claims on her desk, as if desperately searching for something in the middle of the stack.
I gave my full attention to Richard. “Really? So you can leave me with the check again?”
He paled and straightened up, nervously adjusting his white and blue striped button-up collar shirt. There was a weird-shaped coffee stain by his left breast pocket, shaped a little like a banana. I leaned closer to peer at it until the thought occurred he might misconstrue the attention.
I jerked my gaze from his chest. Definitely, I didn’t need him thinking I was checking him out, especially since as of last night I planned to deny I had ever associated with him on a social level outside of work.
Denial would be easier to pull off if he wasn’t popping up at my desk unannounced, as he pleased. Although, maybe his earlier email had warned me about this visit.
I made a silent vow then and there to skim all future emails from Richard before deleting them.
“Now Gen, you made me nervous and I just wasn’t thinking clearly. But I’m trying to say I was too rash last night. I really think we have something here and I’m not sure what I was thinking when I dumped you.”
Dear God, he’d said it out loud.
“I’ll tell you what we don’t have, Richard, and that’s a future, especially after last night.” I switched on my best commanding voice, the one my older sister used on me when I refused to see her way. “So, as there’s nothing more to discuss, I’ll just…see you around. Okay?”
I gave him a firm nod then turned back to face my computer, sliding my earbuds back in place. I could feel his presence behind me for a few seconds longer, but I couldn’t turn around and give him hope.
When he was gone, my inbox chimed and Roxanna’s email read:
Did he seriously just ask you out? Or was I dreaming you were in hell?
Shaking my head, I typed back:
It’s weird—he might be bipolar. I’ll have to keep an eye on him.
Dating was complicated stuff.
My mind shifted to Matt and last night, to his warmth, and the feel of his mouth on mine. I’d felt rusty up until the moment we kissed. Matt had been exactly what I’d needed to ease back into the dating groove. Really, I could use a few more kisses like that. I still had his business card…
I got to work, typing in claims while daydreaming of an almost-one-night-stand.
As I feared, the entire building was soon abuzz with the news that “Richard from IT had dumped Gen from claims data entry,” either due to someone on my team having a big mouth or possibly due to Richard’s friends from IT having witnessed the scene from last night. That explained why Catherine didn’t make a trip to my desk from the executive offices upstairs. Probably, she was lying low in case I was upset with this week’s date debacle.
After the last setup, having left a sports bar wearing most of my date’s beer and having seen more fist-pumping in three hours than I’d ever seen in my lifetime, I’d begged Catherine to let Roxanna have her turn at finding me a date. Catherine had crossed her arms, pinned me with a big sister gaze that told me not to argue, and insisted she get another chance.
As I logged out of my computer that evening, I made a mental note to update my résumé.
“Definitely picking up a newspaper on my way home,” I muttered. I slid the keyboard tray under my desk then stood.
If I found a new job, Catherine couldn’t set me up with all the guys from work who weren’t right for me, and I wouldn’t have to dodge Richard in the hallway. It wasn’t like I was attached to the idea of doing data entry for the rest of my life, anyway. I was pretty sure it was dragging me down.
The gas station a few blocks from my work was busy and I had to park around the side by the dumpster. I hurried inside for a big gulp soda and a newspaper, but the empty rack next to the counter meant I left with a soda, candy bar, and a lottery ticket instead. Balancing the items in my hands, I opened the car door while simultaneously speed dialing my parents’ house from my cell phone.
Just as my dad answered, I sniffed something rank marinating in the dumpster and gagged. The intense May heat punched the smell against my face and I climbed inside my car with puffed cheeks. It smelled like road kill marinating on a blacktop highway in the middle of a summer heat wave. I’d never been able to hold my breath long, and ended up sucking in another lungful of air then gagging on it.
“You little twerp! Get a job!” Dad’s words and booming voice made me choke on the saliva built up from the gag reflex, and before I could say anything, he grumbled, “Another damn crank call, Marilyn!”
I didn’t hear Mom’s reply because Dad hung up on me.
I quickly rolled up my windows and flipped on the air conditioning, hoping to swallow down the cough that threatened. By the time I drove two blocks, my breathing was normal again and I redialed my parents’ house.
“Hello,” Dad boomed into my ear, daring me to be a prankster.
, Dad. Use your caller ID. It’s Gen. You hung up on me.” I stopped for a red light and took a swig of soda.
“Something wrong with you? You sound like the punk kid who’s been calling here all week. Thinks he’s a jokester or something. Jackass juvenile delinquent kids.”
Jim Gorecki was a big bear of a man who stood six foot six inches tall and weighed about 250 pounds. He stayed in great shape working in the tool and equipment rental business he’d owned since before I was born. After Cora fired me from the art gallery, Dad asked me to help out at the store, but I declined. He was a bit old fashioned, which made him difficult to work with sometimes. Plus, he was already fully-staffed and I would have felt guilty with every paycheck he wrote.
“I was choking, Dad. You guys eat yet?” The candy bar on the passenger seat called my name.
“Yeah. I’m headed out to my shop.” Dad did woodwork out in a little shop in the backyard. He told me it kept him sane. If he was headed outside, it meant both my sisters were inside talking wedding plans with Mom. He asked, “You hungry?”
“Yeah. I’m heading over now. See you in a bit, Dad.”
“You better hurry. Your mom’ll be annoyed if you let the food get cold.”
He was right. I said goodbye and stepped on the gas. Even though I’d be eating Mom’s food soon enough, my stomach couldn’t take another minute of hunger pains so I stuffed the candy bar in my mouth in record time.
When I stepped inside my parents’ beige tri-level house, I inhaled the smell of fried bacon and maple syrup, and smiled in contentment. I hurried to the kitchen, salivating. Breakfast for supper was my favorite. Growing up, our family had eaten breakfast for supper once a week, switching it up with omelets or casseroles, pancakes or French toast.
Catherine stood at a sink full of dishes and soap suds. From behind, she didn’t even look pregnant, just a lot of wavy blonde hair and long legs. When she turned, though, her belly was massive and her ankles had begun to swell. Catherine looked a lot like Lexie and me, but she was taller. She’d been an all-star volleyball player in high school, and then she’d played college ball on scholarship. She could have moved anywhere with her Masters in Business Communications, but her “anywhere” had been right here in Lincoln with her high school sweetheart, whom she’d married not long after college graduation. Tony and Catherine had a cute house just a few blocks away from my parents’ place, with a white picket fence and a tire swing hanging from a giant elm, perfect for the bunches of kids they planned to have. I hoped for that kind of happiness someday.