I’m never early to work. I hate every moment between the second I enter the grey building on the corner of 4th and – I wish I was joking – Pleasant Street, and the moment I leave. My cube, my boss, and my coworkers can all go to hell. I’m early today because I’m going to get paid to write my resignation letter on the company’s dime without any of the usual lot of rubberneckers looking over my shoulder. Just because I have a cube and not an office doesn’t mean its okay to have a look-see whenever you please, Kevin, you prying prick. Anyway, it’s Thursday, so I’ll put it in at the end of today and take tomorrow off for the start of a long weekend that may turn into an extended vacation situation. I’m not putting in two weeks’ notice: I’m burning this bridge as soon as I turn in my resignation letter. I don’t even have another job lined up, but I’ve saved up enough to ride through a few months of job searching. Yesterday was the last straw and I can’t take it anymore.
So here I am outside, sipping my hot coffee, waiting for the pedestrian light to come on for the last time when my mood goes from a vengeance-is-nigh sort of glee to rage so quickly that my brain stutters involuntarily at what transpires.
Oh my god, there he is. I have never seen James here this early, but there he is. Waiting at the corner for the walk sign to light up. Almost as if he’s waiting for me.
I hurry across the street so that I can cross with him. I should think of something funny to say. Or interesting. Or both. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head. My feet are protesting my attempt at speed-walking. I should not have worn these heels, but I read somewhere that men are subconsciously attracted to women in heels because it makes them seem polished and slim or something.
I finally make it to where he’s standing, and I glance at the light. 10 seconds left. I push through the group of early-morning commuters and take a breath to say something undoubtedly witty. Instead, the tip of my heel gets stuck in a crack on the sidewalk and I lurch forward. My hands come up instinctively to stop myself from falling. I see James turn around – oh God, he’s going to catch me, just like in one of those movies – and his eyes widen comically. I have just enough time to have another brief thought – this is so romantic! – when my outstretched palm forcefully strikes the cup in his hands. The lid pops off and the rich smell of coffee fills my nose and I watch, horrified, as the liquid comes flying out and splashes all over the front of James’ white shirt.
“You idiot!” some random bystander shouts, but he sounds very far away. James is currently staring at me with his mouth wide open in shock. My ankle is throbbing vaguely, and my hand burns where the coffee has landed, but I can only watch dumbly as brown droplets drip off James’ chin and onto the pavement below.
He must be angry. I’ve really mucked things up this time. I open my mouth to tell him any number of things, “I’m so sorry.” “Please let me buy you a new shirt.” “I am so clumsy, please let me buy you dinner to make up for it.” But nothing I could say seems right and I close my mouth again. I must look like a goldfish. Why did I wear these stupid heels?
But then something amazing happens; he laughs! It starts out as a snort and then slowly morphs into a dazzling belly-aching chuckle. He lifts me upright and brushes at his shirt with both hands, looking at the brown stain as if in amazement. He has a manic sort of grin on his face and all I can think is that he really has very nice teeth. The pedestrian light turns on and I watch him laugh all the way across the street and disappear into the office building.
I beam, belatedly: it really was a bit funny, wasn’t it? My heel is still stuck so I miss the light and must wait for the next one, but that’s ok.
Well, if that wasn’t just so classic. It’s like this hellhole can sense that today is my last day and is pulling out all the stops.
Lo and behold Kevin is in early to finish a report, because of course he is. He pops by and peppers me with asinine comments like “Wow, are you starting a new fashion trend with that shirt?” Finally getting my chance to tell him to piss off, I say that I’d rather roll in shit every single day before work than wear whatever it was that he was wearing. He turns red in the face and stalks away which makes me feel great for all of three minutes before I become a bit anxious that I’ll be hearing from human resources about the incident. Then, I remember it doesn’t matter and the savage glee from this morning returns.
The coffee stain on my new white shirt has already dried and it feels uncomfortably stiff. The skin beneath it feels raw and is painful to the touch. It reminds me of the woman, Staci with an ‘i’, that caused the whole mess. I know her name because she’s in Quality Assurance and occasionally gets assigned to review my reports. She does this annoying thing where she nitpicks the tiniest details and walks all the way to my cube which is on the opposite side of the building and hands me a printed copy of her markups. She also emails them to me, so I will never know what the point in handing them back to me in person is. Sometimes she emails me things like, “Great job on this report, James!” as though I’m a child that needs a gold star for doing my job. On one occasion, before I knew better, I replied with a “Thanks” and she responded with “Teamwork makes the dream work!”. Honest to God, she did. I never replied again.
The security guard compliments me on my shoes which makes me smile even though he is a bit of a creep. A compliment is a compliment! Seems that these are my lucky shoes after all.
I decide that I need to drop by James’ office now that I’ve collected myself enough to form a coherent thought. I’ll stop by, I’ll apologize, and then I’ll shoot my shot. Obviously, he has a great sense of humor about the whole thing. Besides, I like to think we’ve developed, if nothing else, a professional rapport. Inter-workplace relationships aren’t strictly against company policy, given that neither person is the other’s supervisor. I need to see him soon before it becomes awkward, or I lose my nerve.
I put the finishing touches on my resignation letter and print out a copy, making sure snatch it quickly from the printer so no one can see it. I return to my desk and sit in blissful silence for a moment.
I’m contemplating whether to leave something nasty for my boss to find later. There’s a funny revenge story I read in a magazine once where a guy drilled a hole into the side of his cheating lover’s bedpost and inserted a small fish. The woman could never find the source of the stench and eventually chose to move out of her apartment. The funnier part is she probably brought the same bed frame with her to her next residence. I am debating whether I am petty enough for that type of thing when I overhear a girlish voice complimenting, of all things, Kevin’s shirt. I whip around, sure that this must be a joke and I see Staci making a beeline for me.
Dear God, no. Not again.
I flatten my hair with my hands to smooth out any frizz.
I pass Kevin at his desk; he is the only other person who is in this early. I compliment his shirt as I pass, though in truth it is quite hideous. I say it louder than I need to in hopes that James might overhear and think to himself that I am quite lovely when I’m not spilling things on people.
James must hear me because he turns around and locks eyes with me, so there’s no going back now! I put on my best glowing smile as I approach, careful to watch where I walk this time.
“James, I’m so glad I caught you at your desk. I wanted to say how sorry I am for what happened this morning. I just, I saw you there and I thought I’d say hello and these heels are new you know, so I just…” I trail off. I wouldn’t say he’s glaring at me, per say, but he doesn’t look happy. I look away awkwardly and am surprised when he snatches a piece of paper off his desk and clutches it to his chest.
I eye the piece of paper he seems to be using as a shield.
“Er, is everything ok? What’s that?”
He narrows his eyes and mumbles,” Nothing” but he opens desk drawer and slides it in face down and closes the drawer.
After an uncomfortable pause, I decide to pretend like nothing has happened. What else can I do?
“Well, I came by to ask you if you wanted to maybe,” I start, but am startled when Kevin walks up behind me.
“Careful Staci, James might tell you to ‘piss off’,’ he says darkly.
“What? Why would he do that?” I ask, baffled. “Because of the coffee?”
“I don’t know, it seems to be his thing,” Kevin says, casting murderous glances at James who looks as though he’s swallowed a lemon.
“He wouldn’t, er… he knows it was an accident,” I say. “You’re not angry with me, are you?”
James stands up abruptly, looking aggrieved. His chair slides back and hits his desk with a loud bang.
Kevin responds to me instead, “Oho, so it was you who messed up his shirt. Well, good on you Staci, I’m sure he deserved it. Never met a more sanctimonious ass in my life.” Kevin grabs my arm and tugs me away. “Don’t waste your time on this guy. I doubt he’ll make it through the rest of the day.” He points towards Kathleen, our HR representative, who is currently unlocking the door to her office.
“Maybe you’ll be the one who has a little talk with HR,” James says, pointedly eyeing Kevin’s hand on my arm.
I get the sudden impression that he is jealous! “Oh,” I let out a nervous laugh, and extract Kevin’s hand from my arm, “No, you’ve got the wrong impression. Kevin’s married!”
I hoist Kevin’s heavy hand out in front of us so that James can get a good look at the gold wedding band squeezing his thick finger. “And um, actually, I was going to ask you if you wanted to get dinner later.” I drop Kevin’s arm and surreptitiously wipe my hands on my pants. He is quite sweaty.
A dull buzzing fills my ears until it seems like I’m watching a television sitcom with static playing over it. I look at Kevin who is looking at Staci who is looking at me.
I am also surprised by Staci’s question, Kevin, and appalled for that matter, but you don’t need to know that, you giant oaf.
An idea strikes me, and I realize that although the day couldn’t get much worse, it could potentially get a whole lot better.
“Do you like seafood, Staci?”
She still looks flustered but recovers quickly. “Yeah. Yes. I love seafood.”
“How about your place. Tonight. Coincidentally, I was already planning on hitting Fresh Market today.” I smile perversely. Staci smiles too and Kevin clears off, muttering. Pissing off Kevin should be an Olympic sport.
“That sounds wonderful, James. I was a little worried I’d missed my chance after this morning,” she says.
“Think nothing of it.” My Cheshire grin grows ever wider as she grabs a sticky note from my desk and writes her number and address on it and hands it to me.
“Great, let’s say 7 o’clock. I’ll call you if I can’t find the place.”
The moment she leaves, I chuck the note in the trash bin and mime gagging, though no one is around to witness my theatrical hilarity.
It isn’t until much later, far past the time that I admit to myself that James isn’t going to show, that I realize he never gave me his number. I can’t even call him to see if something has come up. I know, deep down, that it hasn’t, though.
I call in sick to work on Friday, because I worry that I’ll run into James. I’m sensitive like that. I spend all weekend in bed watching my favorite romantic comedies.
By Monday, I work up the courage to go back to the office. Not only that, but I’m angry about being stood up. I walk over to James’ office to give him a piece of my mind and I see that his desk has been completely cleared and all his personal belongings are gone. It’s as if he was never there at all.
Kevin’s voice calls out from behind me. “Jerk didn’t even put in his two weeks. He just left. And he changed my computer lock screen to a montage of people taking a shit!”
I nod tersely and stomp back to my office. I think about what a coward he is and how much better off I am without him anyway.
I set down my things and wrinkle my nose as a horrible fishy smell hits me like a ton of bricks.