Contemporary Romance

  Anita didn’t know someone had left a diary on her desk. She sat down in her corner office on the fourteen floor of the Jamal Schaefer Building to slog through another workday. She shifted about in the stiffness of her suit. She powered on her computer. She downed a mini bottle of an energy drink. She sipped away the taste with a vanilla cream latte. She cleared that away with a swig from her bottled water. Her eyes widened awake and she began.

   She pulled the elastics off a bundle placed on her desk. In the bundle was large envelopes of investment contracts, Statements of Claims, and what looked like a personal diary. It’s likely a ledger, or a work journal she thought. Probably something legal from the Legal Department across town.

   Anita hated her job. Her corner office had windows looking out over most of the city, only she didn’t enjoy the view anymore. She hated her job. She hated her life. She liked her cat.

   She wondered when her husband was going ask for a divorce. She wondered when she was going to ask for a divorce. She wanted a glass of wine, but lunch was hours away. Business lunch. A daily glass of wine was totally acceptable if you were having it at a business lunch. Then at home, you could have another glass to unwind. And if no one was watching you, you could have more.

   Her feet were hurting from the high heels. Why did she did she still think this was the uniform? Because she knew every one she had passed up the ladder didn’t do these things anymore. Like dressing up smart. Like keeping open to possibilities. Like writing thank yous, even to people who piss you off. The world is so fake, she thought.

   She looked at the book that was in the bundle. Her own curiosity annoyed her.  She grabbed the book and flipped it open. She skimmed a few pages. It wasn’t business at all. It was a personal diary. She flipped to the front inside cover.

   ‘Property of Mark Rundle.’

   She closed the book and picked up her desk phone to call Main Reception. As she waited for someone to answer she reached over and thumbed the few pages of the diary and read.

   ‘I’m in love, but my therapist says it’s all in my head. That, romantically, I have delusions of grandeur. I have an idealize image of an older woman that I have never even introduced myself to, and that she probably has no awareness, or interest in me.’

   “Got that right.” Anita said out loud alone in her office. The phone went to voice mail and she hung up. She skimmed ahead in the diary.

   ‘That was when I graduated from with my Bachelors in Philosophy. And like Jenifer who dumped when I went to University, Bella dumped me when I graduated.’

   Anita rolled her eyes and skipped ahead.

   ‘And for two years I applied everywhere, but no one cared about my degree.’

  “Hello, wake up. No does care. Welcome to the real world.” She hissed at the diary. She took off her heels and dropped them in the waste basket under her desk. She got up and put on some flats that were by the coat rack beside her office door. She went back to her desk and called Main Reception again. Voice mail.

   She picked up the diary and took the elevator down to the Entrance floor. Someone much younger and prettier was at the reception desk.

   “Who delivers for our Legal Department? Do we have a contact number?” Anita asked.

   “Oh, that’s Mark. Blue eyes, bike helmet, and biking shorts.” The girl answered. She withered when Anita gave her a look that told her she was the most unprofessional receptionist to ever work for Jamal Schaefer Investments. The girl tried to recover, “Did he give us the wrong mail? I can see that he gets that.” She reached for the diary but Anita pulled it back.

   “I will take care of it.” Anita said.

   “I can call the Legal Department. Find out what courier Mark works for. And then I can call you to follow up.”

   “Just send me an email.”

   Back in her office, Anita opened the diary again.

   ‘I’ve always been attracted to older women. They know what they want. They’re so sure of themselves. I don’t understand women my age, they seem so shallow.’

   “Oh, please.” Anita said. She laid the book on her desk and flattened it out to the page she was reading. Then she looked at the spine, worried that she broken it. It occurred to her that was she going to see that Mark got this back. She went and washed her hands and came back. She carefully opened the diary a little. Enough to read the pages without bending them back too much. She peeked inside again.

    ‘I think of her in her office. She’s a boss. She’s so powerful. I love her clothes, her scent, her legs, her eyes, her lips.’

   Anita closed the diary and took a breath. She reached into her desk for another energy drink, then put it back as a bad idea. She reached for her latte, but it was cold now. She sipped some bottled water. She contemplated the diary. Then she took it up again, this time returning to the first page and reading from the beginning.

   A few hours passed and then Anita found her mouth was 0dry. Her body was stiff was from being glued to the diary. Mark’s diary. She noticed it was lunchtime. She closed the diary. “What a whiner. He doesn’t even know he’s attractive. Can’t understand why all the airheaded girls flock to him.”

   Lunch was a crowded private room at Somchair’s. The other executives talked shop and Anita listened and made all the appropriate facial expressions while sucking back her wine and ignoring her food.

   Back in her office Anita hunched over in her chair again reading more of the diary. She looked over her shoulders as if people in the neighboring buildings might be staring at her and if they might be aware of what she was doing. The wine was making the diary reading even better.

   ‘I don’t know how to make love to a woman. So, I try to make up for it by taking my time. By going slowly. By making sure she’s satisfied first. Every time.’

   Anita picked up one of the still unopened legal envelopes and fanned herself. “Oh, Mark.” She said taking a break. Then she checked her computer. There were dozens of new emails, as there were most days. She scanned through dark bold subject titles. She opened up North Side Process Servers. She looked at the phone number.

   A half hour went by while Anita tried to some work that she was paid to doing instead of wasting her day reading some young man’s diary. Then her cell phone beeped with a text from her husband explaining someone was talking about going on strike somewhere and he had to fly out there today. He’d be gone for days. He fed the cat.

   She called the Process Servers and they got Mark Rundle to call her back. She explained she had something he must have left by accident. He offered to come right over when he finished his current delivery. Anita suggested that wasn’t convenient, but she was meeting a friend for a drink after work at Perdue Noir and she would have it with her if he wanted to drop by to pick it up.  

   Of course, she wasn’t meeting any friend. She strategized that a drink could lead to a dinner. She laughed at herself, finding the whole situation ridiculously inappropriate. She took the afternoon off and went home to the apartment. She ignored the cat. She showered and changed, put on some painful spanx to hide the weight but show off her curves. She put on too much makeup.

   Mark arrived at the Perdue Noir well early of the time she had suggested, but she was sitting waiting on him. He was dressed in upscale casual, inexpensive but passable. He wore a sweater, blazer, and Anita had to imagine what he looked like in tight biking shorts. It was a pleasing thought to her. He had very blue eyes. They had a sad, haunted look.

   She lied that her friend had cancelled on her. She gave him back his diary and he held it on his lap like a schoolboy. He was awkward. They had drinks and it was awkward. Anita suggested dinner and Mark was agreeable.

   Anita talked about her education. Her business school years. The parties. The group vacations. Nightclubs. Concerts. Mark was an enthusiastic listener who added nothing to the conversation. Anita wondered why she had gone ahead with having dinner with him. His looks were there, she just didn’t know if there was any spark to him.

   Finishing, Anita put down her napkin and announced, “Well, thank you, Mark, I have to work tomorrow.”

   “Where do you live?”


   “Oh, I don’t mean what’s your address. I mean, where in the city? North end, East, South?

   “The Park. We have… I have an apartment overlooking the Park.”

   “Can I get a ride?”

   “I’m sorry?”

   “I didn’t bring my bike. I don’t have a car. I got a bus here, but I don’t what the evening schedule is like. But if you’re at the Park that would be closer to where I live. Could you drop me off?”

   “Really? You live near the Park?”

   “Kind of. Yeah, I’d really appreciate it.”      

   In Anita’s car Mark only stared forward quietly while she drove. She pulled up to her building by the entrance to the underground parking and looked at Mark.

   Mark looked around, then at Anita. “This is further from where I live than I thought.”

  Anita considered for a moment having another energy drink but instead said, “Okay, Mark, you’re wearing me out. I’m too tired to drive you anywhere?”

   “Maybe I could call a cab?” And he pointed upwards at her building.

   “You don’t need to come up to call a cab. You can use my cell.” Anita offered.

   “I have a cell.” He produced it and showed her. She smiled at him, patiently. Getting the hint, he started dialing. He held his cell close as if it was a secret number he was keying in. A tone indicated it was dialing, but Mark hung up before the call was answered. He pocketed his cell. He rubbed his sweaty hands on his dress pants. He looked at Anita. “Do you think I could come up?”

   Despite everything, or because of everything, Anita considered it. Then Anita’s cell rang. It was a text from her husband only saying that he had arrived safely. She put the phone away and Mark put a hand on her leg.

   She looked at it and then got out of the car.

  “Come here. Come around here.” She said.

   Mark got out and came around to her side where she was standing. They were almost toe to toe. Her forehead barely reached his chin.

   Another car came up to get into the underground parking but was blocked by Anita’s car.

   Anita touched the lapel of Mark’s suit jacket and smoothed the front of his sweater.  She leaned up to the side of his cheek and said, “You need to spend more time with your therapist.”

   She got back into her car and drove into the parking. The other car followed behind. Anita parked and watched the garage doors close automatically, barring Mark from following her.

   After a moment she typed into her cell a reply text for her husband.

   ‘I want a divorce.’

   Inside the apartment the cat ran to her. She picked it up and said into its face, “Men are ridiculous.” It purred for the attention.    

May 25, 2023 15:17

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