"Hey! Are you? You're…? Yeah, hey!"
This was happening. This was really happening. Conner slid down in the driver's seat of his car, looking like a grumpy, deflated balloon. It was too late, right? Right, frick. The new guy had seen him. Why had he offered to give the new guy a ride?! He couldn't even remember the new guy's name, something like Matthew. John. Phillip-- Something Biblical. Conner had barely even remembered he'd offered to give the new guy a ride home. He'd have left if Falyssa hadn't reminded him just short of the door. 'Oh Conner, hey! Daniel was looking for--'
"Yeah, uh. Samuel. But close!"
"Samuel! Sorry, I knew it was…. something Jesus-y."
"Biblical! What's your address?"
"3670 Jewel Street," little newbie grin and all, but Conner had never heard of that street. Dread leaked into his stomach, swirling about with the distress of his work day stretching farther and farther out of his reach-- he had a sudden idea of what an octopus felt like right before it inked somebody.
34 minutes to destination.
In the opposite direction of his own home.
"S'it still okay?" Samuel broached a little too confidently, as though it wouldn't gut Conner to his very soul to make Samuel find another ride home.
"Oh yeah! Yeah. Yeah…" Conner fumbled over himself to recover. It was better to just shut up and pretend this was going to be a decent ride, which is exactly what he determined to do when he set the car in reverse. The car whirred. The wheels turned. The interstate ate up a couple of miles before either one opened their mouth again.
"Work was really cool." That decided to be Samuel's first strike, eyes all clouded over with happiness and contentment-- foreign concepts for Conner when it came to the office.
"Yeah, it was...real wild," Conner muttered, slipping the car into a faster lane.
"Was that projector set up all you?"
"Yeah, was me," Conner bit the inside of his cheek to keep from screaming. He'd handled that whole projector system by himself even though he'd begged Dion to help him. Dion had been more interested in helping Samuel get settled in. Conner nearly had a stroke getting it all going, plugging in the last monitor just thirty seconds before the Board of Directors walked in.
"Nice," Samuel smiled. "It's so cool workin' for a big company. Benefits, good pay. Gets me outta my mom's house. I'm livin' with her til I can get my own place."
Not that Conner particularly cared, but it felt rude not to ask: "Lose your last place or--?"
"Naw, nothin' like that. Just moved down from my old job. Was uh. Was a good change, 'n I'm excited to be here, seriously. It took me forever to get the courage to come down. Glad I did." Samuel was starting in on a soliloquy that Conner just didn't have the constitution to put up with. "People've been real nice; you get any of those cookies Jamie brought in? Dude's wife can bake."
"Dion is great, too, he helped me figure out the office, told me where everything was, took me around the building--"
"Yeah…" Conner's hand imperceptibly tightened on the wheel, only the slightest grunt of the leather to signal anything had happened.
"How long's Heidi been supervisor?"
Conner shrugged his shoulder, his eyes squinting up ahead as red lights started to blossom along the entire length of the interstate before them, about a mile and a half before it went around the bend. Not good. Anxiety growing. Minutes ticking up on the gps.
"You okay, man?"
"Just don't like talkin' about Heidi," he muttered under his breath, hitting the brake while his anxiety peaked and broke over his head like a cold egg yolk.
"Tellin' you 'why not' is talkin' about it." He looked wildly on all sides of the car, not a single other person moving. All lanes were shut down. There were sirens off in the distance. There was a wreck. Fan-freaking-tastic.
"Did I...do somethin' to offend you?" Samuel's voice told Conner this was a rhetorical question, but he'd be lying if he said he wasn't gonna lie straight through.
"No. You didn't."/"Cause it sure seems like I did."
"I dunno what you're talkin' about."/"Really? You don' know. Cause all this time--"
"Look, you think I care--?"/"I know you care."
"Well whoop-dee-flippin--"/"What is your problem?!"
"Stop, just stop! Do I look okay?" Conner threw his shifter into 'Park' because they weren't going anywhere. "Cause I'll tell ya, Samuel, some days after work the only thing I wanna do is go up to that roof and jump. At least I'll get to flip 'em off on the way down. Every day same thing, pullin' myself out of bed, into the car, off to this job I can't stand. And on one uh my worst days of the year? In comes Mr. Wing Tips with the full, blue suit tryin' tuh look like some trust fund kid fresh outta school."
Conner made a point to look at Samuel, meeting the man's glaring eyes with a set of his own, but at least Samuel seemed to be riding this out. Conner felt like an uncaged animal at this point, strutting around on a well deserved high horse that came from years of experience at the bottom of the barrell. "And what for? So you can get stuck in the same fricken job as me, in the same fricken place, with the same fricken people. They don't respect me. They don't see me. They don't look my way, they just send me an email and expect me to be outta the room by the time their prestigious board comes through. You wanna know what this job's like? They're gonna show you off like your gran'ma's new rug and then lay you out like one too. They're gonna dismiss your ideas, they're gonna brush off your suggestions, they're gonna pick at every lil' mistake you make so you know you have never and won't ever be good enough. I hate this job, I hate the people, I hate the company, and right now I hate you, so we are gonna ride in silence and I am gonna drop you off at home and we are never gonna speak of this again so long as I live, amen."
He felt a little high from the monologue, watching from the corner of his eye as Samuel seemed to teeter between rage and hatred. It was hilarious to watch, Samuel's gears rotating as he chewed on his tongue, looking around them. Priceless. …..right?
"Look," Samuel's words were like a bite out of Conner's flesh, soft and harsh and if that wasn't threatening then Conner didn't know what was. "I get it. I get you. You're sick 'n tired 'n you know what? You've probably outgrown this place. You've been here ten years. If you really are sick uh this place like you say then you're too ambitious to not learn some new tricks by now, man. But you get scared first time you drop the ball! You freak out; who even cares if you got the job done if you drove 'em nuts cryin' about it the whole time?! Yeah don't look at me like that, I saw what happened when Dion said he was too busy showin' me around, the look uh panic you had all over your face. And if I saw that, you think Heidi and Sydney missed it? I guarantee they didn't! I bet they talked about it later, cause Dion and I talked about it. I asked about you, I stood up for you, said we should go in there and help you out, but Dion goes, 'Nah don't worry about Conner; that's just how he is. He can handle it.' They put more faith in you then you do and they think you're a joke!
You know what, I wasn't even gonna say anything cause it's none uh my business. You know it's none uh my business, right?" Samuel leveled him with a glare that had Conner wanting to crawl out the window and join the alleged wreck victims up ahead. "Cause you're acting like it's mine. I'm not responsible for even one thing you've been cryin' about, and I'll tell you somethin' else: I like it here. It's great compared to where I came from. They smile at me when I walk through the door. They look at me and they act like, 'Oh yeah, that's Samuel. He's a good person. And I like havin' him around.'"
Samuel took a breath and Conner felt himself sink lower in the seat. His shoulders slumped, all his anger burned out-- Even Samuel seemed to calm down from the sight, his face turning from accusation to a more brutal reflection, eyes scanning the middle distance between the cars before coming to settle on Conner like a big, scary father trying to instill some tough love in his son.
"Y'know maybe they'd smile at you if you'd started smilin' back at anybody. You ever smile at Jessica? Jessica's the receptionist, she's done nothin' to you. You ever smile at her? You ever ask her how her day's goin'? No, you're too busy cryin' about your 'bad' day before it even gets the chance to decide what it'll be. You know who acts like that? Jackasses. No one likes puttin' up with a jackass, Conner, and y'know since you think you know me so well let me enlighten you. I don't plan on stayin' here either. I'm movin' on from this job one day when I earn my way up the ladder and I'm not gonna be sorry to you or to any other sob story I pass on the way up."
He felt like he'd been stabbed.
Like, deep with a twist blade, stabbed.
"You're riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight!" Conner slumped all the way forward and pressed his forehead to the wheel, the car horn screaming from the pressure of his oversized head.
"Woah, hey, man!" Conner couldn't see him from that position, but Samuel sounded like he was whipping his head around at all the other cars, but what did Conner care? If Samuel was right then this was absolutely in his nature.
"You're right! I'm the problem, I'm the idiot, I'm sorry, man, 'm so sorry!"
"Apologize after we get outta here, and stop layin' on the horn!"
"I didn't mean to make this about you, I'm sorry, I've got issues--"
"Yeah alright, alright, I forgive you, sit up! This guy's outta his car!"
"HEY!!" Thump thump thump. "WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?!"
Conner finally looked up through the window, his eyes all watered over with tears threatening to fall. He was out of his mind; he figured it'd be kind to roll the window down and talk to the guy, even though Samuel was hissing at him from the passenger's seat to roll it back up, roll it back up!
"Look, man, this isn't about you, can we like trade numbers 'n talk about this later?"
"Are you drunk?!"
"I'd prefer it, tuh be honest."
"What are you doing?!" Samuel's hissing perforated the tension around Conner and the Road Warrior, and Conner actually started to notice the eyes of other drivers around them. Even the firemen passing by were looking over their shoulders.
"I got this," Conner tried to be diplomatic, waving his hand gently at Samuel to encourage him to stay down. He turned back to Road Warrior with a lazy turn of his head. "Look, as fun as this introduction is-- your face is really red 'n I get the feelin' you're pretty pissed off with me, I understand that--"
"You think I'm pissed off at you?" The guy laughed a crazy little laugh, nodding his head along, but it was not proper warning for what came next.
"HAAACK!" Conner let out an assortment of gags as Warrior's hand grabbed his throat, like a snake latching onto a baby bunny and not about to let go.
The whole car lurched at the same time. Conner was getting lifted out of his seat, Samuel spiraled out of his own, throwing himself into the street and jumping the hood of the car. Screaming. People were watching, Conner's vision was going fuzzy, Samuel's fist was flying outside the window. Road Warrior caught it to the jaw. There might've been blood. Nope, definitely blood. Samuel caught a fist to the nose.
Conner gasped for air because a punch to Samuel's nose meant he was let go.
Yelling. Shouting. Electric-- was that a taser?
Conner kept gasping as he witnessed a tiny woman lunge at Road Warrior with 50,000 volts, and Samuel rolled around the ground by the car door. There was groaning, a lot of people tackling Mr. Warrior, and then Samuel's hand slapping the edge of Conner's window. Samuel slowly pulled himself up to stand and stare into the middle distance with softened rage. His nose was bloodied and his eyes bloodshot. Conner felt a sense of guilt almost immediately.
"Man, I 'm so sorry… ."
"Yeh you are..."
"You tackled that guy for me."
"...thank you…. thank you so much."
Samuel clicked his jaw back and forth, his eyes watering so hard that tears started falling down his face. He ducked his head gently and sobbed once, tearing out Conner's heart and shredding it to pieces.
"Oh-- Oh man, I'm so sorry, I regret everything I said, I take it back, I--"
"No, man, no, it's not--! I think that guy broke my nose!"
"Oh--! Oh, frick!" Conner startled, his head spinning as he unbuckled and leaned out the window. "Ey, we gotta nurse?! Nurse anywhere?! HEY!"
Lesson learned: Never offer your coworker a ride home.