When she left the house that morning, the cat was sitting on the hood of her car like it owned the place. She vaguely remembered seeing him last night as she stumbled in. At the time, Mary assumed it was her roommate’s cat, but now she remembered that her roommate’s cat had died a few months ago. She was glad she hadn’t remembered that last night, because she had just reached the level of inebriation where she began to believe in ghosts. A ghost cat would have made her unable to get the sleep she needed to confront Chad.
Chad. What a dumb name anyway. It sounded like the name of an actor, or a frat boy on his way to becoming an actor. If you name your son Chad you probably should expect them to want to be an actor, or expect them to become a guy who sleeps with his co-workers and then ignores them.
Last night her girlfriends had staged an intervention and with the help of alcohol they had urged her to send him a text.
Unbeknownst to the girls, and fortunately for Mary, she hadn’t successfully hit send. So, when she woke up the next morning to read what she had typed, she just about fainted before quickly erasing it.
But what about the next time? Surely her friends would try something like that again and she wasn’t about to let them talk her into typing something equally stupid. It was time she just asked him what the deal was.
She walked up to the cat and looked into his hazel eyes.
“Yo,” she said.
The cat said nothing.
“I kinda need to get in that car.”
The cat blinked and looked away from Mary.
“I mean, I need to get inside that car and drive it to work.”
The cat squeezed his eyes shut in the morning light, glaring off the windshield.
“Hey, they should call you Chad because you’re so good at ignoring me,” she said, as she opened her door and threw her briefcase and water bottle inside.
She started the car and the cat got up slowly and stretched. She honked the horn which seemed to have no effect. Finally she rolled her window down.
“I’m going to start backing up!” she called.
The cat calmly walked to the edge of the hood and hopped off as if that had been his plan all along. Mary watched as he walked over to her welcome mat and curled up in a ray of morning sunshine to relax.
“Enjoy yourself,” Mary mumbled, as she pulled out of the driveway and took off to work.
She felt pretty proud of herself for arriving on time for the first time in weeks, and made sure Mr. Lanahan saw her come in. She didn’t want to miss a chance to let him know she was in on time. She was a good worker, but she also wasn’t the type of go-getter that some of her coworkers were. She usually just worked steadily and quietly and hoped her boss noticed.
When she got to her cubicle, Amber was already seated and filing her nails.
“Hey!” Amber said, “Wild night, huh?”
“Yeah, for a Tuesday at Applebees. Sure.”
“Oh come on. You had fun though.”
“I cannot wait to see the look on Chad's face today. I can’t remember what we told him, but I remember we had some zingers.”
“Oh yeah,” Mary said, turning her computer on and swiveling around to face Amber. “I never sent that message.”
Amber almost threw her nail file across the room.
“Are you kidding me?”
“I promise meant to send it, but I guess I didn’t actually hit send. Those dollar long islands hit me pretty hard.”
“Dude! That was art! That was our magnus opus.”
“What did I say?”
“Magnus Opus. And it wasn’t. Do you know what it said?”
“I don’t remember.”
“It said, ’Hey. Your a biggest jerk and its small also why ignores?’ And by the way, 'your' had no apostrophe. And no 'e'.”
“Holy cow,” Amber covered her mouth and bent over with laughter.
“I thought it was so much more profound.”
“Yeah, me too. I looked at it this morning prepared to be triumphant, and it made my hair stand on end. I think I had a guardian angel watching me.”
“We’re such idiots. I’m gonna text the other girls, in case they mention something.”
“Yeah, I’ve decided I probably need to talk to him before I get some more liquid courage and decide to send something equally bad.”
Amber didn’t respond as she clicked away at her phone. Mary liked Amber, but often wondered how she was able to stay employed at the company. Once she had admitted to Mary that she went a whole week without turning on her computer, and no one had noticed.
Mary opened a report she had been working on last night. This was something that would probably take her to the end of the day without having to use too much of her brain. Which was good. She was already planning her conversation with Chad.
She found an opportunity when she saw him go into the break room with his coffee cup. He had a special latte machine in there and she knew he would usually take up to fifteen minutes making his coffee. Why had she ever liked a guy who was so high maintenance anyway? She followed him into the break room and pretended to be surprised to see him.
“Oh hey! Just checking to see if there is any coffee left.”
Chad had the decency to look ashamed as he finished pouring the last of it into his machine.
“So sorry,” he said. “This makes a lot though. Let me split it with you once it’s done. You like lattes?”
Someone more naïve than Mary would think his pity latte was a generous offer, but he knew perfectly well she was lactose intolerant.
“No, that’s fine. I’ll just whip up some more.”
“Let me. I finished it off.”
“Oh ok, thanks,” she turned, as if she was going to leave, but then pretended to think better of it.
“Hey, Chad,” she said. “I was just wondering. You remember last Friday?”
He smiled at her, “How could I have forgotten that?”
“Hah, yeah, I mean, it seems like you have sort of been avoiding me. And I just wanted to make sure everything was ok with us?”
“Of course! I wasn’t avoiding you.”
“Oh well, I have asked a couple times if you wanted to hang out, and you didn’t seem interested.”
He turned his stupid handsome face toward her, looking very concerned. He even had the gall to widen his dumb perfect sky-blue eyes as if he was actually worried about her.
“Mary,” he said. “Did you think that, uh...I mean, I just assumed we were having fun. I don’t really want a relationship or anything.”
“No!” Mary laughed nervously, well aware that her throat had that feeling she got right before she started to cry. She had to get out of here.”
“I actually thought you were taking it too seriously,” she said. “Because you didn’t want to hang out. I’m totally glad we’re on the same page.”
“Oh good!” he said, sounding insultingly relieved. “And if you are ever up for a repeat of Friday night, I sometimes get really bad insomnia. If you know what I mean.”
And then he winked. He seriously winked at her like a big dumb jerk. Like she was the sort of person you could just take for granted.
Mary summoned all her high school acting experience and gave a carefree laugh that she really hoped didn’t sound like a shriek. As soon as Chad turned back to the coffeemaker, she fled. She ran back to her cubicle, picked up her briefcase and turned to Amber.
“If anyone asks, I ate something that disagreed with me and got food poisoning,” Mary said.
“Dude. Lanahan’s gonna ask if it was something from here.”
“It was something from home. You didn’t get all the details because I was half puking.”
“Ok ok. Gross. Go.”
Minutes later Mary was pulling into her driveway, tears already making their way through her makeup and down her face. She looked up to see the cat back on the hood of the car. She leaned against the car horn for a long time to no effect. She threw open the car door and yelled at him.
“I’m NOT looking for a RELATIONSHIP right now. I hope YOU aren’t.”
The cat jumped off her car and walked over to a patch of mushrooms at the side of her house that had sprung up overnight. He sniffed at them, and looked back at Mary.
“I’m a good worker,” Mary told the cat. “Why am I letting some guy I barely know make me feel like this?”
The cat went back to her doormat and stared at the door.
Mary got out of the car, unlocked the door, and let the cat in. She opened a can of tuna and set it on the floor, along with a bowl of water. The cat rubbed against her leg, and settled down to eat. Mary watched for a while, and grabbed her keys from the counter.
“Well, if you’re staying, I need to afford some actual cat food.”
The cat looked at her for a long time before turning to the bowl of water.
“I guess I better go back to work.”
“Meow,” said the cat, but Mary didn’t hear him, because she was already back in her car.