The peroxide blonde gave one last heave then awkwardly dismounted. Wordlessly, she gathered up her clothing and strode into the bathroom.
Tom Mosley lay very still.
There were sounds of a toilet flushing, a faucet running, and oddly, tooth brushing. He made a mental note to throw out his toothbrush after she left.
When she finally emerged from the bathroom, her minidress only emphasized her narrow shoulders and wide, disproportionate thighs. Tom wasn’t sure of her age. He wasn’t sure of her name.
Her eyes, lashes clumped together with mascara, smeary with eyeliner, made her look much older than she hopefully was. Like a ferrety woodland creature, she spoke at a rapid clip while looking around the room, out the window, down the hallway.
“I go to Bonefish Grill on most Friday nights? They have a really good happy hour,” she added as a selling point, flashing what passed for a coquettish grin.
Tom did his best to return the smile, but could only manage a grimace. “Come by sometime . . .” She playfully grabbed Tom’s big toe, sticking out from the crumpled sheets. She wiggled it. “The bartender is a friend of mine, and she makes a mean blueberry lemon drop.” She emphasized the “p” with a pop.
“I’ll try,” Tom lied.
The light in her eyes was wholly extinguished as she realized she wasn’t going to be escorted to the door. A Bonefish Grill reunion was very unlikely to happen.
She gave Tom a half-hearted wave and attempted a strange prance out of his front door.
Tom rolled over and lay prone. He only exhaled when he heard the door click shut.
This was what he’d been reduced to: hooking up with divorcées at chain restaurants. Worse, he had picked through a pile of women that Marty jettisoned.
Disgusted with himself, Tom sauntered into the bathroom, looked around suspiciously for any remnant of her, and wiped everything down with Clorox.
He flopped back in bed.
His cell phone’s default ringtone startled him awake.
Tom squinted at it. Marty.
“What’s good, Tommy boy?” Marty cheerfully bleated.
“What time is it?” Tom struggled to sit up. A cold wave of nausea washed over him. Tequila on an empty stomach was never a good idea.
“Pete and I are heading to the gym. You coming?”
“I’m out,” Tom replied.
“C’mon, Tom. Hey, are you alone?” Marty laughed, braying like an idiotic alpaca. "I can’t believe you went home with that prehistoric sabertooth cougar last night. What was that like?”
“She was better than your sister.”
“You wish,” Marty countered. “How many times have I told you? Don’t bring your trash home, Tom.”
“You're buying next Friday,” Tom muttered.
“Not going to happen. I've seen your bar bills. Hey, there’s a staff meeting after lunch on Monday. They’re thinking about adding an entire department. You want to grab a bite before the meeting with us?”
“Yeah,” Tom rubbed his eyes. He needed to be at that particular lunch to pregame his strategy. If management was moving around the proverbial chess pieces, he needed to see as much of the chessboard ahead of time.
Marty was the nexus for all office gossip and rumors. Cynical introvert as Tom was, he relied heavily on Marty to keep him abreast of office politics.
“Good. There is a lot happening at Grey Skye.” Marty’s wide toothy grin could be heard over the phone. Always the upbeat, happy bastard. “So tomorrow, man. We’ll get some Thai or something.”
“Okay,” Tom said, “Anywhere but Bonefish Grill.”
🜋 🜋 🜋
Even for a Monday, the traffic was exceptionally bad. Tom cursed the roadways all the way to Grey Skye, his first and only job after college. Seven years later, he still drove the same beater car he had bought after graduation.
Money had always been tight, as his divorced parents were and had been completely unhelpful. After decades of necessary thrift, the steady financial stream of his Grey Skye salary still felt unnatural.
🜋 🜋 🜋
Tom’s cell phone lit up; he glanced down at it while aggressively maneuvering between clogged traffic lanes.
He let the call go to voicemail. He was almost at Grey Skye anyway.
Grey Skye was a same-day freight business, specializing in crisis management.
Marty worked as a national sales manager, promising valuable cargo would show up where and when it desperately needed to be. Human donor hearts, kept beating with circulating blood pumps, had only a narrow window of time to help desperate transplant patients. Movie stars and entertainers had riders demanding bagels from specific New York bakeries or cioppino from a favorite San Francisco eatery. Sensitive, confidential documents needed to be personally shuttled around to discrete governmental agencies (with unlisted addresses) or to business magnates who especially needed plausible deniability.
Marty always said selling Grey Skye’s services was easy since office administrators just sunk courier costs into miscellaneous expenses. That was much better than losing a deal or enraging a temperamental actress or breaking a heart.
Tom Mosley had just been promoted to manage Special Services at Grey Skye, almost permitting him to become an alcoholic. Any miscalculation of routing, random act of God, or unacceptable delay in delivery was officially a problem with Tom's name on it.
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“So I said, why create another department?” Tom heard Marty’s loud mouth clear across the restaurant. Tom had arrived late to lunch due to some minor chaos with delivering show dogs.
Marty held up his fingers, emphasizing his main points to his half dozen acolytes dressed in blue Oxford button down shirts and khakis. “The pecking order at Grey Skye is Upper Management, Sales, Dispatching, Accounting, and then Special Services. We don’t need a new Customer Services department.”
Marty waved at Tom, motioning to him that Marty had saved Tom a seat right next to him. His remarks made everyone at the table offer various counterarguments, causing everyone to wildly gesticulate at once.
There was constant debate about the Upper Management at Grey Skye, of which none at lunch were truly a part.
Tom kept silent. Most of these idiots lived, breathed, and ate Grey Skye, bantering and bickering over company policy, departmental responsibility, and, of course, pay.
Tom had heard these discussions too many times: every department was a martyr. Each department manager carried the cross. Occasionally, Tom interjected his views when necessary to give them the appearance that he was listening. He listlessly answered rebuttals. Their pettiness seemed especially vapid today.
When the waitress arrived with their drinks, Marty made a gallant show of helping her hand the beverages out.
“Thank you. This is awesome. Who ordered the cranberry and club soda? Diet Coke?” Marty glanced at her nametag. “Kaitlyn! Just put it all down, Kaitlyn. We’ll figure it out,” Marty said as he casually dismissed her, but not before saying her name three more times and scanning her entire body from head to foot.
Kaitlyn the waitress was clearly charmed.
Disgusted by Marty’s antics, Tom sipped his Diet Coke and imperceptibly shook his head.
That was Marty’s one move: slathering attention and affection on some girl, abruptly being cold to her, then circling back for the kill. It made girls wild for him.
Knowing Marty, Tom knew he would chat up Kaitlyn after the bill was paid and use his saccharine bullshit to get her phone number.
Throughout the entire lunch, Tom watched Kaitlyn the waitress’s increasingly dispirited attempts to catch Marty’s eye to no avail. Marty just continued holding court, spewing his hot take on office gossip.
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The 2:00 p.m. meeting started promptly on time, as Upper Management modeled punctuality. Tom and a few of the other department managers had quickly filed in at the last minute since Marty had taken forever paying the bill at lunch.
Tom fumbled with the meeting’s handouts and tried to assume a cool, professional look, completely pissed off at how close Marty was to making them late.
“So join me as we welcome the manager of Grey Skye’s new customer service department, Kelly Reilly,” said one of the Upper Management suits. There was a smattering of applause as Tom focused on a woman he had never seen before.
She stood and shook hands all around. Then she began to introduce herself and talk about her vision for customer service in the 21st century.
She was lovely.
Tom quit hearing exactly what she was saying; instead, he intensely focused on her sparklingly hazel eyes, long glossy hair, and good natured, cheerful smile. In irresistible contrast, her visage exuded a sparkling intelligence, while her bearing held such gravitas that he wondered if she’d been a Marine.
“. . . and Tom Mosley from Special Services will be instrumental in helping you hit the ground running.”
Hearing his name spoken aloud jolted Tom away from his all-consuming reverie. Seeing Kelly Reilly expectantly look at him horrified Tom for a split second, as he was certain she could read his thoughts.
“Absolutely,” he willed himself to remain poker faced. “I look forward to having you come aboard,” he added and then gave an unfortunate little salute to temper his stupid reply.
“Great to have you on the team, Kelly. We Reilly are glad you are here!” Marty chimed in. Everyone laughed at Marty’s bad pun — his latest witticism — such a funny guy! There was a clamor of voices and shuffle of papers and feet while the meeting dispersed.
Tom crossed his arms in front of him and remained at the conference table a little longer than necessary, waiting for the crowd to thin.
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Tom began to come to work much earlier than usual.
The traffic was much lighter, and he was able to answer important emails to get a jump on the day, but who was he kidding?
He was spending too much time loitering in the kitchen, hoping for a Kelly-encounter over the Keurig coffee maker. Tom practiced K-cup jokes while he shaved in the mirror. He wondered if she took cream or sugar. Maybe cream and sugar?
Whichever she chose, he’d follow suit.
Over the next few weeks, there were endless meetings as both Customer Service and Special Services charted out their separate duties, responsibilities, and procedures. Tom thought he caught Kelly intently looking at him several times when he made a particularly viable point. During those times, he would deepen his voice and lean back in his chair with arms akimbo, something Esquire magazine suggested would help. Whenever Kelly nodded and agreed to one of his suggestions, Tom spent the rest of his day on a high. If she diplomatically redirected any major or minor remark of his, he was utterly disheartened.
Tom started staying later at work, too. It wasn’t like he didn’t put in a good nine or ten hours on a typical day. He had just overheard Marty talking to someone in the elevator about Kelly burning the midnight oil. No surprise, as she was incredibly driven and confident in getting her department up and running. Marty said she spent an inordinate amount of time in the photocopier room, producing manuals and memorandum for her fledgling staff. Marty said that she was very well liked by Upper Management, who had big plans for her.
Somehow Marty also knew that Kelly lived in the condominiums right around the corner from the office, so she could manage to workout in the early mornings.
Apparently, Kelly really liked spin classes and the new juice bar which had opened up. Tom had frequented it of late, sipping carrot and beet juice, hoping to run into her.
“You still here?” Marty stuck his head into Tom’s office. There was no reason for Tom to stay, but nothing much awaited him except a long drive home on a congested freeway to a nondescript apartment with an empty refrigerator.
“Nah, I’m heading out,” Tom sighed. “Drinks on Friday?”
“Yeah,” said Marty. “I might be busy, but maybe.”
“I can’t remember you missing too many happy hours.”
“Yeah, well. Shit happens,” Marty grinned.
“Sure does,” Tom said slowly, eyeing his friend who quickly disappeared from his doorway.
Tom grabbed his things and took the stairs to the parking garage. When he got to his car, he stuffed his bag into the trunk and slammed it shut. Hard.
He looked up at the building. Literally fucking Marty.
Tom turned around and headed back to the office building. He swiped his keycard and reentered the lobby.
It was just past 8:00 p.m. and all was quiet. The night cleaning crew had just arrived and were situating mops, buckets, and trash cans. Security nodded at Tom as he beelined it to the elevator bank and repeatedly jabbed the up arrow.
The elevator arrived at the lobby with a loud, disconcerting ding. Tom brusquely entered the elevator and stabbed the control panel to select the right floor.
He knew right where they’d be.
Another ding announced Tom’s destination. He wheeled down the darkened hallway, illuminated only by safety lights and EXIT signs. As he approached the photocopier room, he fell quiet and listened.
Of course Marty was with Kelly, Tom thought. That’s what he always did: Marty took the things that Tom wanted. With his stupid smile. His idiotic jokes. And her? Just as pathetic. How could Kelly be attracted to someone as shallow as Marty? She was breaking every human resource policy in the manual.
Enraged, Tom threw open the door to the photocopier room and saw two figures crouching in the corner.
“Marty! Kelly, you whore — ” Tom stopped short.
Marty and Kelly both looked up at him, fully clothed and open mouthed.
When Tom’s vision cleared and his jealous rage subsided, he simply saw two people clearing a paper jam from the Xerox machine.
One of them burst into tears, the other one gave Tom such a pitying look that Tom could do nothing but leave.