Co-workers

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On new optimism.

Published January 7, 2017 by mandileighbean

“The future’s just a fucking concept meant to keep us from being alive today.”
– “Six Feet Under”

“New Year’s is so weird, the way it makes you think about time. I think that’s why people put so much pressure on themselves to have fun.”
– “Modern Family”

Two posts in the same week from me? It’s been a while; my apologies. I know multiple new posts from me are unheard of (despite my many resolutions); something great must be happening.

And I can assure you that it is.

But let’s be real and start from the very beginning of this year.

Suffice it to say that on December 31, 2016, I let myself hit rock bottom (which is somewhat appropriate, bottoming out on the very last day of the year). I was the fattest I’d ever been and was utterly alone aside from the cat, which does little if anything to make the situation better. It was the first New Year’s Eve I remember ever being alone, and as a result, I went to bed well before midnight and completely missed the dawn of the new year. I mean, I was struggling to keep my eyes open at 9 pm.

Which is completely unlike me; hence, it was – and still is – time for a change. I made a list of everything I hope to accomplish in 2017 (lose 40 pounds, market my new book, learn how to paint, learn how to play piano, learn how to ride a motorcycle, update this blog every Wednesday [while getting back on schedule this upcoming Wednesday … some habits are REALLY hard to break], attend writing conferences to jump start my creative career, create a book trailer for my upcoming release) and so far, I have followed my schedule accordingly.

But to what end?

My newly optimistic (like the throwback to the title of the post? I’m clever in 2017!) foundation was rocked severely when a tragedy struck my workplace just as we all welcomed the new year; a sixteen-year-old revolutionary, a young woman who was as brave and confident and smart as anyone I have ever had the privilege of meeting, passed away suddenly, unexpectedly. The death of someone so young is tragic for so many reasons; it feels like the death of hope, and it’s a stark reminder that the future’s never promised or guaranteed. And this young lady in particular is a most grievous loss because she personified promise and potential. She was never hesitant to give her opinion, which was most definitely a good thing, because she was fucking smart. She had purple hair, she was enrolled in the AP Language course as a junior, she participated in Drama Club in such a delightful, enthralling way, and she just really lived – she gave life a run for its money in her brief time on this spinning globe in a way most of us never will.

Now, the old me (sorry for the seemingly cheesy and inauthentic avalanche of bullshit you may be anticipating now that I’ve used that phrase; but PLEASE stay with me because I’ve never been more REAL in my ENTIRE life) would have eaten my feelings and grotesquely used personal tragedy as an excuse to stuff my face and not move. I would have stayed as I am because it’s easy to simplistically label the world a cruel place and want nothing more to do with anything of it. It’s a defense mechanism to disengage and not try, and my juvenile and unhealthy tendency to revert to dramatics when shocked or rattled has always enabled me to return to this defensive mindset.

Sure, shitty things happen; that’s life. But that’s not all there is, so I embraced the future. I reminded myself that life isn’t as simple as good or bad. A life can’t truly be measured until it’s over, so I planned on continuing to try new things and make changes because my life isn’t over.

So I applied to the St. Augustine Mentor-Author Workshop. It’s pretty exclusive; you have to apply before you can register, and it’s a small-group atmosphere with the specific intention of helping accepted authors get published by a commercial publishing houses. The cost to attend and participate is nearly $3,000 (which I certainly don’t have) but I thought I’d apply anyway so I could say I tried and, obviously, I didn’t think I’d be accepted.

But then I was; I fucking was!

The ONLY problem is the cost, so I became really ballsy and started a GoFundMe campaign. Now, I hate asking ANYONE for ANYTHING (especially money; people get weird about money) but I had WONDERFUL SUPPORT from so many friends, and I currently have 3,649 people who have “Liked” my Author page on Facebook – if each individual gave just $1.00, I’d more than make my goal. And I need to say I tried; if I fail, fine – but I have to try. So I made the GoFundMe page on January 5th, around 5 pm. Making the campaign was surprisingly quick and easy. I also e-mailed Michael Neff from the St. Augustine Author-Mentor Workshop to ask about the last day to register so I could develop a calendar, a timeline (the actual event is at the very end of February). I’m still waiting for a response, but I am ENTHRALLED to announce that my campaign TOOK OFF! Before I went to bed that night – THE FIRST NIGHT – I was nearly one-third of the way to my goal! Friends, family, former students, people I’ve lost touch with have ALL donated in amounts from $5.00 to $300.00! I am COMPLETELY OVERWHELMED by the generosity. love and support from so many different people. The love is UNREAL. I feel like George Bailey from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

I’m really starting to believe this could be the beginning of something NEW and AMAZING and BETTER. I NEVER thought the GoFundMe idea would work as well as it has so far. At the time of this post, I currently have $1,870.00 of $3,000.00. And it’s all because I took a risk and asked the universe. And I’m thinking it’s also because of Mollie Belasco, the young lady who passed, and her inspiring, wondrous, and all too brief life.

So here’s the link to donate: https://www.gofundme.com/expanding-my-writing-career

And here’s a writing prompt for you sit back and enjoy – the first of the new year!

 WEEKLY WRITING PROMPT #1.2017: A company representative returns from a sales trip claiming to have met the devil.

 Frank Turner was already loosening his tie as he slowly trudged back to his desk after having been out of the office for five days on a business trip. He’d been out of the state as well, far out on the Western coast. He threw his briefcase thoughtlessly, almost recklessly, onto his desk, not giving a good shit about the papers or mug or the entire cornucopia of supplies that made up office living; no, office survival. Assorted supplies and a picture frame went tumbling to the carpeted floor, making enough of a commotion that most of the co-workers within ear shot turned and looked with shocked, anxious expressions.

“What’s the deal, Frank?” hissed Nicole through gritted teeth. She raised her eyebrows for emphasis, to impress upon Frank that a cool, calm and collected demeanor was highly valued in the work environment and currently, he was none of those things. She was going to continue scolding, but one look at Frank’s pale, contorted face was enough to shut her up.

“I’m sick,” Frank moaned. “I’m real sick. I think I might die.” His last words came out as a half-strangled sob. His emotions and all of the thoughts raging inside him overcame him, and Frank slumped into his chair and let his head fall to the desk cradled only by his thin, trembling arms. He was sobbing unabashedly, weeping like a woman.

Nicole was horrified.

“What do you mean, ‘dying’? Frank, what’s going on?”

He offered no reply, but cried and cried, big heaving sobs. The shocked, anxious faces of their coworkers were creeping closer now, crowding in around them like morbid looky loos at a car accident. Nicole felt the uncomfortable pressure of their presence and immediately resented it. She sprang into action and collected the garbage pail beside her desk before quickly moving to Frank’s side and dropping to one knee. She rubbed his lower back and said, “Frank, please, you’ve got to talk to me. Calm down and let me help you, if I can.”

“I’m beyond help. I’m a dead man,” Frank choked.

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?” Nicole was panicked by Frank’s desperation.

“I’m gonna be sick,” Frank bellowed. Abruptly, he fled from his chair and left it spinning as he hurried to the men’s room. Nicole rose to a standing position slowly, using most of her energy for thinking. With Frank’s physical presence removed, the uproar began to die down and the small space was soon filled with keyboard clicks, murmured conversations and ringing telephones. Nicole had been waiting for just such a return to normalcy and once it arrived, she discreetly strolled to the men’s room. She looked to her left and right to see if anyone was watching – no one was – and then ducked inside.

Frank’s ravaging sobs echoed loudly against the tiled walls and tiled floor. Nicole turned to lock the heavy pneumatic door to make sure no one intruded and then hesitantly called out, “Frank?”

There was a moment of stunned violence. Then Frank’s heavy, subdued voice said, “This is the men’s room, Nicole. You can’t be in here.”

Nicole smiled weakly but Frank didn’t see; he was locked in the farthest stall opposite the farthest urinal. She took two steps forward, emboldened by his rationality. “Frank, it’s okay. I’m just here to talk to you and check on you. What is going on, man? You’re acting…,” she paused, searching for the right word while trying to be delicate, but all she came up with was, “crazy. You’re acting crazy.”

“Maybe I am crazy,” Frank sighed. He offered no elaboration, and Nicole was growing impatient.

With a little bit of an edge, she said, “You have to let me know what’s going on, Frank. You can’t just barge into the office all hysterical and expect me not to want to know why, or expect to not try to help you.” Nicole took a breath and softened. “I’ve been sitting across from you for six years, Frank. You can talk to me.”

There was only silence and Nicole was afraid all was lost. She slapped her open palm on the wall of the stall nearest her and turned, ready to walk out and leave the little shit to figure out whatever was ailing him on his own. She stopped and turned back when she heard the click of shoes on tile. Rounding the corner of the line of stalls, Nicole saw Frank emerge from the last stall. He was sweaty and pale and entirely disheveled. He looked like he was in agony, in absolute misery, and Nicole’s heart hurt at the pitiful sight. His eyes were red-rimmed and his eyebrows were furrowed. The lines of his face were hard and sharp; whatever it was plaguing Frank Turner, he was in it. He looked to Nicole. “You’ll think I’m crazy.”

Nicole smiled in a small way, this time so Frank could see. She hoped it would diffuse some of the tension. “Try me,” she encouraged.

“I met the Devil.”

Nicole was shocked into laughter. Not wanting to be insensitive, she quickly recovered and covered her mouth. She leveled her gaze at Frank with a very serious expression. “You’re going to have to explain.”

Frank’s immediate response was to turn and retreat into the bathroom stall he had so recently exited. Nicole thought he was crazy, Nicole had laughed him, and so would everyone else. He had never felt more alone, and therefore more terrified, in his entire life. He collapsed onto the porcelain throne without an ounce of royalty about him, and then allowed his body to fall to the left, resting against the stall wall. He started crying again; what else was there to do?

Nicole knew she had fucked up, so she walked slowly but with purpose towards Frank’s stall. She paused just before the open door and only poked her head into the stall. “I’m sorry, Frank. Your response wasn’t anything I was expecting, that’s all. I didn’t know what else to do, so I laughed. I’m an asshole, I know.” Frank stared at her in complete agony and misery, and Nicole’s brain became fixated on the phrase “man on fire.” Frank looked like he was burning alive and in a grim way she would never admit aloud, Nicole thought that might be fitting given what he had just confessed to her. Frank only stared, he said nothing, so Nicole took a few more steps into the stall. She kneeled before Frank. “Please tell me what happened.”

Frank swallowed hard and then gasped for air. Was he burning or drowning? Did it matter? So long as there was pain, did the intensity of that pain validate or nullify its own existence? Frank didn’t want to think, so he decided to talk and to occupy himself with the explanation, the wondrous, fantastical explanation that was simultaneously horrifying and terrifying so that Nicole wouldn’t even believe him. But what else was there to do? Just cry? Frank closed his eyes, stayed slumped against the stall’s wall and said, “The first night there, after some bullshit ice-breaker workshop, they served a really nice dinner. I’m talking lobster and baked potatoes and hors d’oeuvres I can’t pronounce. I was looking to chow down, but I wasn’t really looking to make friends, so I claimed a table in a far corner and was perfectly content to be alone. It was an open bar, too. I was gonna stuff my face, drink until I was dizzy, and then stumble back to the room and call it a successful first night. I had a plan,” Frank insisted as his voice shook. He used his sleeve to wipe his eyes and nose. He sniffed loudly before continuing his story.

“But this guy, this fucking guy, comes and sits right next to me. I mean, goddam, he was practically on my lap. And he’s all smiley and greasy in a three-piece suit that was more than my monthly mortgage payment, and he was so good-looking. I know it’s weird that I noticed that, but think about how physically perfect this guy had to be for me to notice and to fucking be impressed.” He sobbed loudly. “I admit it, I was impressed. As creeped out as I was by his obvious lack of concern for personal space, I was so impressed. His teeth were white and straight, and his hair was elegantly and fashionably disheveled, like he used a fucking ruler to determine what strand fell where. Looking back, I realize how precise and calculated it all was, how awfully manipulative, but in the moment, it was all effortless and … and,” he struggled momentarily for just the right word but finally decided on “cool. He was just cool.”

Suddenly, Frank rocketed forward and let his forearms rest on his thighs. His posture was still all tight and jerky, and his expression was grotesque in its suffering. “I wanted to be him, you know? When he started talking, I wanted to just nod politely and blow him off, not encourage him in anyway. But within five minutes, I was fucking captivated, man. I was laughing and he was laughing, and then he was slapping me on the back and we just kept drinking and laughing and drinking and laughing.” He covered his face with his hands and cried. Nicole was wide-eyed and confused. Was Frank about to come out to her? He had a wife and kids, and Nicole wasn’t sure if she was worthy or responsible enough for the burden of such a weighty secret. She was about to just walk out and let fate take its course, whatever course that may be, but Frank inhaled sharply and kept talking.

“So the place is emptying out, like really clearing out, but him and I are still there, still yucking it up. I think I was even wiping my goddam eyes from crying from laughing so hard when he turns to me, serious as a heart attack, and asks, ‘What is it that you want from life, Frank?’

“I laughed and told him I was too drunk for introspection, but he persisted, he was insistent. So I told him I’d love to make a million bucks. I’d pay off the house and credit card bills, set Dennis and Jenny up for college at least a little bit, and take Michele somewhere really nice that she’d never been before, like Paris or Rome or something. He asked to see pictures of my family and like a goddam fool I handed them over without a second thought. He looked at them, and this was the first time I noticed something was off because he didn’t just look at them, but he really fucking studied them. He brought the pictures up real close to his face and tried to bore into their souls. I kind of snatched the picture back and was all determined to bid adieu when he tells me he can make it happen. He told me he could give me a million dollars, no questions asked.”

Nicole squinted her eyes skeptically. “You believed him?” She was starting to believe that Frank was in some real financial trouble now, maybe he got robbed blind in some kind of scheme, and she was in no position to help. She’d had Ramen noodles for dinner the past month.

“I was drunk!” Frank roared defensively. “I didn’t know what to think, so I entertained the idea and I kept talking. He said there was only one catch, that I only had to do one thing once I had the money.”

“What was that?” Nicole asked.

Frank swallowed hard again and finally met Nicole’s gaze. He was white as a ghost with a green tinge around his edges, like he could spew vomit any moment. “I’d have to kill someone I loved,” Frank said. His voice was cold and without tone or rhythm; it was mechanic and robotic, like he was saying something he’d rehearsed. “And if I didn’t, he would. He said he would kill someone I loved. Then he started laughing like a fucking lunatic and promised I could keep the money either way. All I had to do was shake his hand.” Frank broke down again and Nicole moved to rub his back. She tried to hush him, tried to soothe him, but it seemed futile. His wracking sobs caused his body to heave and Nicole thought he might just pass out from the effort.

“Frank, did you shake his hand?” Nicole asked tentatively, thinking some confession might help Frank, might be cathartic in some way.

“Yes!” Frank exploded. “Isn’t it fucking obvious that I did?” He screamed in desperation, in fear, just a guttural, animal noise. “When I looked into his eyes to see if he was for real, something happened to me, Nicole. So I tried to look somewhere else, and I did, but only for a second. There was this odd birthmark on his wrist that caught my attention. It was all red and lumpy but kind of small. It was circular but had lines inside it. It might have made sense and been decipherable but I felt like I had to look in his eyes. I looked back up and … I can’t explain it and you wouldn’t believe me even if I could explain it, but something happened to me. It was my body that shook his hand, but it wasn’t me. Does that make sense? How could I agree to something like that? It wasn’t me.” Frank was pleading his case, desperate for Nicole to believe him. He needed some kind of validation.

But Nicole was becomingly increasingly suspicious and terrified. Had Frank killed someone? Was that where the extreme emotional display was coming from, some sort of unimaginable guilt? The only thing keeping her in the stall was the very plausible possibility that Frank was confused or wrong. What in the hell kind of a story was he telling, anyway? She leaned away from him, but she asked, “So what happened next, Frank?”

He had collapsed his chest onto his thighs. “I shook his hand and he laughed but it was scary. I knew I had to leave so I high-tailed it back to my room and just collapsed into bed. I slept in my suit and everything.” He looked up at Nicole. “The next morning, when I was sober, I showered and dressed and drank about a gallon of strong coffee, and I found the guy responsible for registration. He had a whole list of names of everyone who was there from every firm. I told him the guy propositioned me to kill someone for him, that the guy was dangerous. He asked me the guy’s name, and I told him, and he checked his list. He checked his list over and over with me standing right there and there was no Lou Sever on the list. He even let me check. When I couldn’t find anything, he said it was probably someone just fucking around and went about his business like nothing was wrong.”

“Did you call the cops or anything?” Nicole asked, striving to be rational and logical.

“I couldn’t, Nicole; I wasn’t even sure if the guy existed,” Frank said with disgust. He was unsure at the moment if he was disgusted with himself or Nicole. He supposed it could have been both. “So I went to the workshops that day, every single one even if I wasn’t technically signed up, and I looked for this guy. I searched high and low, talked to people and asked questions. I hung around the hotel bar like some pathetic loser, just waiting and watching for him to reappear. But he never did, Nicole. I never saw him again.”

“Isn’t that a good thing?” she asked slowly, cautiously.

Frank laughed but without humor. “You would think so, especially when there was over a million dollars in my checking account. There were no recent transactions listed in my account summary and when I went to the bank, they all acted like I was insane, like the money had always been there. Michele called me and she was ecstatic. I tried to explain to her what kind of money this was, dangerous money with no sort of trail, but she was already on the way to spending it. And the worst part, the absolute worst part, is that she kept thanking me, like I had worked hard, or done something noble and righteous for this sudden windfall, but I didn’t, Nicole. I didn’t do anything good for that money.” His head fell into his hands.

“You didn’t do anything at all, Frank,” Nicole said. “You just shook some sick fuck’s hand while you were drunk. You tried to give the money back, or at least investigated, but everything was working in your favor.” Nicole grinned. “Maybe it’s a reward.”

“Not from a guy like that,” Frank protested with a deep pout pulling his lips down. “There’s no reward. For a few days, I thought like you, like maybe it was all gonna come up roses or something, I don’t know. I was almost happy flying home, and I let myself think about the future and how easy life would be. It was gonna be so nice,” Frank sobbed. He wiped at his eyes furiously. “But when I got home, Nicole, nothing was easy or nice. It was all completely fucked.”

“What’s wrong, Frank?”

“Michele took Dennis to the hospital because he was real sick. It was sudden and devastating and they’re saying he won’t make it. And he has a new fucking birthmark on his wrist,” Frank said, looking to Nicole with dead, empty eyes. “He has it, Jenny has it, Michele has it, I have it. We’re all going to die.”

Nicole jumped to her feet. She started to slowly back out of the stall. “Frank, I-“

Frank slowly stood. “I only came to work today to do the one thing to stop all of this. I have to kill someone I love.”

“Frank, be serious,” Nicole pleaded. Her voice quivered in its weakness and she kept backing up until her back slammed against the cool, tiled wall of the men’s room. “You just … we need-“

“I love you, Nicole,” Frank said and it was at that moment Nicole saw the blade in his hand as it just so happened to wink in the harsh fluorescent lights.

devil

On shredding it all.

Published September 22, 2013 by mandileighbean

As of late, this blog has become less and less about me flexing my writing muscle and promoting my literary talent, and more and more about litanies of complaints about my life.  It has become embarrassingly juvenile and pointless.  This post is the first of many to remedy the issue.  Anecdotes and information about my writing process and career are clearly valid fodder for entries, but all of the other nonsense has been sound and fury, signifying nothing.  So, please enjoy this short story, as I am writing again. 🙂

DAILY PROMPT #1: “You inadvertently run an important paper through the shredder.”

watercoolerromance1The Shredder

The pulse of any office is the mechanical hum that constitutes the daily, incessant white noise.  The thrumming electricity of the air conditioning, an illicit and discreet mini fridge, any number of computers and copiers and scanners and shredders and telephones, is the background to one thousand and one inane conversations, small heart attacks, hurried and hushed exchanges of gossip, and angry and bitter disappointments.  Human society is merely comprised of many micro chasms of itself, linked intrinsically by human dramas resulting from the human condition; that is, a shared experience in which humans are defeated or victorious against a myriad of trials and tribulations and triumphs, all varying in degrees of difficulty and delight.

Allison often congratulated herself on how profound she could be standing before one the aforementioned pieces of office machinery, completing menial task after menial task, and feeling her brain go numb and die one precious cell at a time.  If she was not constantly thinking of other things, thinking of things other than memos, customer complaints, returns, exchanges, and minimum wage, then she was sure to lose whatever intellectual prowess that had remained but was surely fading since college graduation.  She had graduated magna cum laude, which was impressive, but had done so with a B.A. in English, which now seemed foolish because it did little to no good as she dealt with petty customer complaints for an embarrassingly shady online retailer, who really only acted as a third party and had no warehouse of its own from which to ship goods.  Her passion for the English language was now limited to pretentiously polite e-mails to customers who ordered a 50-lb. bag of peanuts not intended for human consumption but for livestock, but ate some anyway and now demanded a full refund as compensation for any future illness.  She composed not for literary greatness or analysis, but for customers who sent along a strongly worded e-mail insisting an item description is wrong and that the Santa suit pictured is not actually flame retardant.  All her literary gifts and breathless wonder at the majesty of the written words lay dormant and spoiling within her.

Allison had understood as a freshman that earning a B.A. in English did not guarantee a glamorous occupation that garnered a six-figure paycheck, so she had done the responsible thing and received her teaching certificate.  The economy was so horrible upon the completion of her four years at an accredited university that even finding a job that would supposedly always be in demand, like teaching, proved difficult.  The wide-eyed and optimistic smile that had shone upon the newly conferred degree in May was now distinctly dimmed at the end of August, as aspiring author and academic analyst of literature Allison Wyke mindlessly made copies that had no consequence on the greater truths of the universe.

It was bad enough that she held a degree and was making just ten dollars per hour of work with no benefits to speak of at a dead end job she only found through a temp agency, but Allison was still living at home with no boyfriend and a car that only started on warmer days and if she whispered loving phrases against the dashboard as she turned the key in the ignition.  The car barely rolled along to the less than impressive office building in the middle of a dangerous eyesore of a neighborhood.  Coming for the interview, Allison had traveled with the windows rolled up and with the doors locked tight, even though the air conditioning did not work.  Deep down, Allison understood she was being somewhat ridiculous and buying into stereotypes proliferated by urban legends more than anything else.  Although, she certainly raised eyebrows when, in preparing for the interview, she had been advised to not be offended when her possible future employer refused to shake her hand as it was for a religious reason.  Allison was a Roman Catholic born and raised among many other Roman Catholics in a white bread community, so differing religious customs and practices greatly intrigued her, almost like instead of traversing a town or two, she was traipsing across continents.

When Allison left the stifling safety of her barely operational Ford Explorer, and found cover from the blazing August sun, and entered the cool, dark and somewhat barren and disappointing retail space, her sense of adventure vanished.  Seated at the reception desk was just another white girl.  While it was far from scintillating, it was familiar and did make the situation more comfortable, so Allison smiled politely, gave her name and the reason for her appearance, and she did as she was told and had a seat.

The office was an appreciated contrast to the summer heat, but it was also exceedingly simple and plain and bare.  Aside from the uncomfortable and unfashionable chair Allison was now seated in, there wasn’t much else to be entertained by.  Her chair was one of three, pushed against the far, wood paneled wall beside a massive copy machine.  To her left was a coffee table, upon which rested a cheap and dusty plastic plant in an equally cheap and dusty plastic vase.  Everything was a dark brown, even the carpet, so the room clearly strived for comfy but came off as antiquated.  Everything also seemed used and worn and long past its prime, other than the technology.  Allison’s eyes, bored and therefore remarkably observant, roamed over the large space, dubiously regarded the various certificates and accreditations hung crookedly on the walls in expensive frames.  There was nothing remarkable or personable about the room, not a single hint of personality.  Allison was thinking about cold consumerism and wondering about her future happiness when a door somewhere off to her right opened.  “Allison?” called a rather generic male voice.

Rising to stand, Allison smoothed her pencil skirt and turned.  She began walking towards the voice, which belonged to an equally generic-looking man.  He wore black trousers with black boots that offered no shine whatsoever.  His button down shirt was an immaculate shade of white and his sleeves were very neatly rolled just above his elbows.  His hair was an interesting shade of brown, looking as if it was flecked with rust and was probably more copper than it was brown.  His eyes were dark and round and boring but kind.  That being said, his features were utterly forgettable, other than the dark prayer sash hanging from his back pocket and his yarmulke.  Allison smiled, shading her surprise, and said, “Hello, how are you?”  She had to fight hard against her instinct to stretch her hand out towards her potential future employer.  Not being able to shake hands made an already nerve-wracking introduction even more frustrating.

The man stepped back and held the door open wide, clearing the threshold and inviting Allison in.  “Hello Allison; I’m Jacob.  Come on in and have a seat.”  Allison did as she was told and was decidedly unimpressed with the mundane office, with crooked and cheap frames, worn carpet, and distinct lack of any personality or human touch.  She did not particularly care for the way Jacob lounged in his fancy office chair during the interview, reclining as if he were completely disinterested and utterly bored.  But what could she do?  Times were hard and she desperately needed the job, so Allison plastered a smile upon her face and did her best to be as charming as possible.

It worked apparently, because here Allison was five months later, mindless and miserable.  She was now shredding useless documents, rapping her fingernails with their chipped polish in a surprisingly cheery rhythm.  It was 11:00AM on Wednesday; not quite halfway through the day, but at least it was halfway through the week.  A dreamy smile lit upon her face whenever she thought about 5:00PM or the weekend.  The reverie that was just beginning was mercilessly cut short, well before its prime, by Jacob’s voice.  “Allison, review this purchase order, have the sales office sign off on it, and then place it in my inbox by 2:30, okay?  Thanks,” Jacob said, not waiting for a reply, expecting and accepting only complete compliance, and practically throwing the sheet of paper at Allison.  Carefully, she placed the paper to the side of the others, not wanting to accidentally send it through the shredder.  She worried about Jacob’s wrath were that to happen.

With the interruption over, Allison resumed sliding sheets of paper into the machine to meet their sharp demise, and she was anxious to resume creating fantastical plans for the weekend, which was a source of comfort even if the plans never came to fruition.  What if she decided to join Melanie on a trip to that seaside bar where all those scruffy-looking guys in fashionable flannel shirts gathered?  Would she meet a handsome musician with gauged ears and many tattoos?  She wouldn’t know yet because her daydream was cut short for the second time that day.

But this interruption was welcomed.  “Hey Allison,” said Eli, the only good-looking male in the whole office.  More than that, he was the only friendly male in the whole office, not allowing his religious beliefs to completely segregate and alienate himself from the female gentiles.  His face was sweet and innocent with an enviable clear complexion.  He had dark hair and dark eyes and thin, pink lips.  He was thin but was not frail by any means.  Allison knew it must have been awkward and uncomfortable for Eli being eye candy for an office filled to the brim with women, so she always did her best to play it cool.  It wasn’t like there would ever be anything to build on anyway because she was not Jewish and Eli was married.  Still, it was the only mildly entertaining encounter with a male she would have all day.  So she smiled and slanted her eyes ever so slightly before returning the greeting.

Oh, Eli ….  Allison remembered the first time she had met him.  She had been in a different office, in a different part of the building, and the room had been incredibly small – no bigger than a glorified closet, really – but Eli had done his best to turn it into a comfortable, let alone decent office.  But the room was so small that if the door swung open, it would smack against Allison’s desk and most likely bruise her elbow.  It was definitely crowded, but Allison was lucky enough to share the close quarters with Shannon, who was incredibly kind and empathetic; she too was a single, young woman who had recently graduated and was now being taken advantage of by brutal bosses in a bruising economy.  They would often share harmless water cooler gossip in the tiny room, separated from the others and just across the narrow hall from the actual water cooler, and dissolve into girlish giggles at the thought of Eli and his good looks and his sweet manner, wondering if he would kiss Allison’s bruised elbow and make it all better.  They had gone silent when Eli had entered the room, following the installation of an air conditioner, to hook up a second computer – Allison’s computer – with all the necessary software to make the machine productive.  It was her second day and already, management had shoved her into cramped quarters.  Eli had wondered if the new environment made Allison nervous, and if she wondered if the move mad some menacing ulterior motive.  Allison had no such worries, and had been making idle and safe conversation with Shannon to pretend Eli’s proximity was not as titillating as it was.  She did not notice the quick glance Eli stole before bending over the desk to check the wires in the back of the tower.  As usually happened when among the women of the office, Eli felt eyes roaming over his behind and he surprised himself by hoping the eyes belonged to the new girl.  They did; Allison had indeed checked him out, but Eli had missed it by not turning around in time.  He had stayed still until the sudden heat that struck his cheeks had dissipated.  Eli could not remember the last time he had blushed.  He would never admit aloud or to anyone but himself that he found the new girl attractive.  It wouldn’t be right – he’d be shunned and ashamed because she wasn’t like them.  Straightening up, Eli turned to face Allison with blank eyes.

Suddenly, he couldn’t remember name.  “Uh, um … ah …” he stuttered.

She smiled kindly.  “Allison,” she reminded him.  There was something like a hint of laughter in her voice.

“Right,” he breathed.  “Allison, you’re all set up with the e-mails, programs and everything.”  He leaned over her, careful not to touch her, to show her what he was talking about on the monitor.  “If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.  He smiled brightly and risked making direct eye contact.  Allison’s eyes were wide, dark and deep, and her lashes and brows framed them elegantly.  Feeling a few, tiny beads of sweat gather at the back of his neck, Eli knew he had to leave.

“Thanks,” said Allison.  She was still smiling.  “Thanks a lot.”

Eli had nodded and fled the room.

In setting up Allison’s e-mail, Eli had sent her a message to a) make sure it worked and b) to send her a username and password for one of the programs.  He had kept it short and professional.  Returning to his desk later that day, he saw he had a new e-mail.  Instinctively, he opened it and he read it without much thought.  The message was simple enough; “Thanks a lot!”  Upon checking who the message was from, Eli’s face flushed.  It was from Allison.

Still later that day, Allison’s second day, one of the ladies from accounting complained that the water cooler was out of water.  Sighing heavily, Eli wheeled his chair back from his desk and headed to retrieve a full water jug.  The jugs were kept neatly in rows of rounded cubbies beside the vending machine…and directly across from the office Allison shared with Shannon.  Eli did his best to ignore this fact, especially since none of it meant anything anyway.  However, as he slid the jug onto his shoulder from the cubby, Eli couldn’t help but notice the open door and saw Allison at her desk.  Eye contact was made, but it was fleeting; he wasn’t even sure if it really happened, but he smiled anyway, to be polite.  Allison smiled back, and the jug on Eli’s shoulder abruptly felt very heavy so he hurried back down the hall to the water cooler.

On Allison’s third day, Eli had walked into the lobby of the office and found her in front of the clock-in machine, anxiously bouncing from foot to foot.  Her eyes shifted from side to side, like she was discreetly pleading for help.  Cue the theme music for the conquering hero – he walked beside her.  “Are you having trouble?”

Allison shot him a muted smile; the worry lines etched on her face robbed it of its normal brilliance.  “Yeah, every time I try to use this thing,” indicating the electronic key clutched angrily in her hand, “the screen says, ‘Invalid Entry.’  Jacob just gave it to me yesterday before I left, but my ride was already here because my car crapped out on me.”  Most likely stressed from trying to make the perfect first impression, this simple problem had developed into something like a thorn in Allison’s side.

Eli’s face fell.  Sure, he was good with electronics and technology and whatever, but this was Jacob’s department; Jacob would be the conquering hero.  Eli heard his theme music end abruptly.  “Jacob will be in the office in an hour or so.  I’d talk to him.”

Allison tried smiling brightly again, but this second attempt was even more pathetic than the first.  “Okay, thanks.”

Eli gave her a small smile and slowly shuffled into his office.

For the next month or so, things had continued in the same vein for Allison and Eli.  They shared small and polite smiles, and only spoke to inquire about the weather and the mornings.  Eventually, Allison moved into a larger room with Shannon and other female employees and though she made friends, she felt unfulfilled and missed being intellectually challenged.  Eli spent the majority of his time in the office with Jacob, arguing about this and that and trying to make important decisions as a team, while Allison sent out her resume and looked for any other job.  Business was slow for Allison and Eli, and Jacob and everyone else, so many fell into the habit of checking for e-mail every five minutes or so to help pass the time and to create the illusion of appearing busy.  Nothing new or interesting ever seemed to show up, other than right before quitting time, so Eli was shocked to discover an e-mail from Shannon.  Quickly, his shock transformed into shock and awe when he realized the e-mail was about Allison.  It read, “Hey Eli.  Allison isn’t able to receive any e-mails.  Please consult when you get a chance.”  In the back of Eli’s mind, he could hear that theme music from long ago beginning again, and rising to a powerful crescendo.  His chance had finally arrived.  He did his absolute best to contain his nervous excitement and tentatively poked his head in the doorway (after sprinting down the hallway, of course).

If only Eli had known how long it had taken Shannon to compose the short, innocuous message.  Allison had insisted on reading it over and making it as platonic and professional as possible to best conceal the giddy excitement at the mere prospect of seeing Eli inside their office.  Allison was terrified all would be revealed the moment he walked in, but couldn’t keep from meeting his eyes almost instantly.  Allison smiled and released a breath.  “Hey.”

“Hi,” Eli squeaked.  Clearing his throat, he blushed for only a moment before asking, “Are you still having problems with your e-mail?”

“Yeah,” Allison answered.  She stood before him.  “I can send messages fine, but I don’t seem to be getting any.  Messages, I mean,” Allison said, blushing and laughing like a complete idiot.  Eli smiled.  They stayed still, exactly where they were, for just a moment before Allison stepped to the side, moving farther from the desk to allow Eli better access to the computer.  “I even tried sending myself an e-mail.”  Allison laughed and the adorable sound made the corners of Eli’s lips lift instantly.

“Alright,” Eli said and squatted in front of Allison’s desk where the chair would normally go.  It had been wheeled next to Shannon’s desk, most likely for training purposes.  Clicking around, Eli found the problem easily enough.  He rectified the issue fast and explained it to Allison.  “You’re good to go now,” he finished.

“Oh, thanks, thanks a lot.”  Eli wondered if she’d reach out and touch his arm and couldn’t readily decide if that would be catastrophic or not.

“Oh, also, I should have your phone ready either by the end of today, or first thing tomorrow.”

“I really, really appreciate all of this and all of your help.”  Every time Allison smiled, Eli smile – he couldn’t help it, but he didn’t want to give her the wrong idea.  As discreetly as he could, Eli left the room and shuffled back down the hallway.  He missed Allison share a look with Shannon and then dissolve into a fit of giggles.  He missed Allison check her e-mail and the expression that passed across her face when she read his e-mail from yesterday that simple said, “You’re welcome.”

Essentially, he missed everything.

Allison remembered a Friday some time later.  It was the much beloved end of the work week.  As an added bonus, everyone got to go home an hour earlier since the vast majority of the office had to be home before the sun fell below the horizon.  Eli had been early that day – maybe because he was anxious to end the work week – so he hadn’t seen Allison come in.  He confirmed her presence in other ways, like when he had to exchange the empty water jug on the water cooler for a new one and shot her a friendly smile from just outside the door.  On the pretense of making sure her phone was installed properly, Eli found himself brazen enough to also linger in her doorway and exchange incredibly brief pleasantries.  Eli knew damn well that what he was doing was dangerous, that he was most assuredly playing with fire, but in the secret, intimate recesses of his beating heart, he didn’t care – at least, not on such a glorious Friday.  Allison did her part by always allowing him to use the sink in the kitchen first, by feigning complete and utter ignorance whenever her computer malfunctioned (and pretended to be impressed when Eli simply restarted the machine, which she always knew would solve the issue), and by always requesting to be shown how to use any program or complete any troubleshooting.  In fact, whenever one wanted to be sure to crack the other up, Shannon and Allison would say “Can you show me” in a breathy whisper.

One day, Allison was gushing about how attractive Eli was without realizing he had been behind the opened door, fussing with a water jug, the entire time.  After that, conversation between the two had become easier and more genuine, as if refraining from simply admitting the mutual attraction had been insulting.  So here they were, five months later, discussing their weekends like old friends.

“Are you still looking for a new job?” Eli asked.

“Absolutely,” Allison answered without even the pretense of a thoughtful hesitation.  “I’ve been looking at publishing companies in the city.”

Eli grinned.  “What about teaching?  You have your certificate, don’t you?”

Allison sucked in air between her teeth.  “Eli, please; I’m much too glamorous and passionate and wildly romantic for that.”  She laughed softly to show she had only been kidding.

Eli had continued to grin, but his tone was serious when he said, “You’re right.  You’re all of those things.”

Allison’s jaw dropped.  Urges to say things and to do things to Eli and with Eli all came rushing upward and nearly outward.  She needed to do something with her bothersome and troublesome hands, which now felt enlarged and tingly, but she had run out of paper to shred, meaning that she had shredded that incredibly important purchase order for Jacob.  “Shit,” she said.

The color fled from Eli’s face.  “Allison, what’s wrong?”

Allison covered her face with her hands.  “I’m not going to have to quit, Eli.”

“Well, that makes me happy,” Eli admitted with a fairly troubled countenance.

“I’m going to get fired,” Allison groaned.

watercoolerromance2 watercoolerromance

On needing a break.

Published March 26, 2013 by mandileighbean

Hello there, Stranger Danger!  It has been quite some time since we last spoke.  Unfortunately, not too much has happened, nothing terribly exciting.  Well, aside from the past three days, which were a complete whirlwind.  But – I am jumping ahead.  Let me begin with a highlight of the past two weeks.

The play was a roaring success!  The students were so talented, and sweet, and appreciative.  They made me cry and they made all the time spent, all the bruises, and all the frustrations completely worth it.  I was given flowers and a signed poster and a t-shirt, and was truly touched.  I know I kind of decided that I wasn’t going to be stage director next school year, but if Lee asks, I will say yes.

Lee was amazing.  I miss spending hours and hours with her every day.  She is so sweet, and she is beautiful inside and out.  I wish she had won The Biggest Loser at work.  She came close, though; second place!  I rounded out the top five and was only one pound shy of my goal weight!  I want to lose another fifteen before the end of the academic year, and then I am going to tone.  I am more motivated than I have ever been before, and believe I have a shot at making it this time – a real, bonafide chance.  That will most likely happen after this vacation, though – which brings me to my (slightly) harrowing tale.

I have been looking forward to Spring Break more so than is healthy and probably humanly possible.  I had plans to begin my second novel, to continue dieting and exercising and to really relax.  I used the word “need” whenever I talked about it, and I talked about it constantly.  Everyone at work was echoing similar sentiments; we all agreed that between the mold in the middle school, the split sessions, the bomb threats, Hurricane Sandy, the offensive bathroom graffiti, the new Danielson model of evaluating teachers, and schedule changes, the school year has sucked (pardon my lack of eloquence).  Personally, I believed that I was cursed for having such a year be my first full year as a teacher, and those suspicions were doubly reinforced when I tried to leave, to finally catch a break.  The rare occasions where I am selfish always seem to occur on the worst possible days.  I have always had the worst timing; even Mom says so.

“And the sky opened up, and God looked down, and He said, ‘I hate you, Amanda Bean!'”  Nothing that I plan ever works out; it never goes as planned, even despite all of my desperate, frantic prayers that are intermittent with sobs.  Nothing goes right for me.  In the film “Stranger than Fiction” with Will Ferrell, the main character discovers that his life is being narrated, and thereby dictated, by a female author.  To find out how his story ends, he must first determine whether his story is a comedy or a tragedy.  He keeps score in a little notebook, and soon believes that he is living a tragedy.  I now firmly believe that I have this in common with Harold Crick, the character’s name that I have just remembered.  Better yet, I would argue, and do so successfully, I’m sure that my life more closely resembles a Shakespearean tragedy.  However, if that is the case, then where, oh where, is the sweet release of death?

I know that I am guilty of being melodramatic, particularly with that last line, but I earnestly believe that I cannot win for losing and that if it weren’t for bad luck, I would have no luck at all.  Every time I look forward to something, it inevitably and devastatingly crumbles.  My reality NEVER meets my expectations.  As a result, I recently marched myself into the fairly swanky convenience store beside the Shell gas station where I was temporarily stranded (Exit 118 off I-95 South in Thornburg, Virginia) and purchased a pack of Marlboro Red 100’s – cigarettes.  I planned on smoking as many as it took to keep from drowning myself in my “pity-pool-of-tears” party.  I only smoked one, though I did so down to the filter.  I was distracted by the healthier urge to write and the 24 ounces of coffee that I also purchased.

I was about an hour and a half away from Missy’s house when my car overheated.  The needle was BURIED in the red and steam was POURING from the engine.  I called my dad asking him if I should pull over, or what else I could do, and he began listing the WORST CASE SCENARIO; that my car would have to be left in Virginia and be towed, that I could not have the Spring Break vacation I had been salivating over.  Being a dramatic, young woman, I began to cry.  Dad said, “Jesus Christ!  This is why you can’t go anywhere!” and, essentially, blamed me for the whole incident.  Naturally, I cried harder.  I then called John, and he was SO cool, calm, and collected and totally talked me off the ledge.  Working together via cell phone, we were able to get the car a couple of more miles.  It overheated again, and I had to pull over and there, on the side of the interstate, in the cold and in the dark, I was going to have to wait nearly two hours for Missy to come and find me.  There my car would sit, abandoned.  I was back on the phone with Dad (I had over forty calls in total that night from Missy, John, Dad, and Mom) when flashing yellow lights suddenly appeared behind me.  I was kneeling on the passenger seat in the front, remarkably disheveled, searching for a flashlight to check the fans in the front of the engine.  My high heels were near the pedals, on the floor by the front seat.  My eyes went wide and I was worried that my life was about to turn into that scene from “Taken.”  I was waiting for Dad to say, “Mandi, these men are going to take you.”  Luckily, it was only Steve from the Virginia Department of Transportation.  He wanted to make sure everything was okay, and I am fairly certain he can read minds because he explained why it took him so long to leave his truck and to come to my car is because he had to call it in to the local police.  Could he have seen my wide eyes, wild hair and trembling lips?  Maybe.

But Steve was a godsend.  He looked under the hood, added anti-freeze and that may have fixed the problem, but a new problem emerged right there before our eyes, as unbelievable as it may seem: my battery was dead.  This was most likely because I had left my lights on while parked and waiting for the engine to cool down.  Steve explained that he had a soft bumper and would push me to the nearest exit, which was only about a mile away.  There was a Dairy Queen where I could park and wait for Missy.  He pushed me all the way there, gave me his card and left me with the knowledge that three hours ago, right where I had been stranded, a helicopter landed to fly an elderly woman to the hospital after her car and trailer flipped, with her, her husband, and their dog inside.  The woman did not make it.  The scene was chaotic and horrifying.  But I was okay – I suppose that was his message.  He was smiling when he walked away.

I made it to Missy’s after she came to rescue me with Jimmy.  She drove three hours to get me somewhere safe, even though she had two little ones at home and work the next day.  She sacrificed a lot for me, and John had been so calm and helpful and reassuring.  They were excellent.  I owe them SO much.

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The next day, Mom and Dad drove down to my car.  I did not see my father, but he assessed the problem (which was simple; the car needed antifreeze), fixed it, and went back home because he had to pick Mike up from his camping trip.  That’s seven hours in the car for me.  Mom spent the entire day in traffic to come down, only to drive me to my car the following day.  All that time, all that money (gas, tolls, etc.) for me.  Dad even filled my tank with gas (which was unbeknownst to me, and I purchased $2.51 of gas and spilled it all over me).  And after driving through the McDonald’s Drive Thru in first gear, it was smooth sailing.

I made it to Vero Beach, Florida.  I spent the day outside in the beautiful sun.  I had my phone interview – which was a live radio interview – on the beach.  The interview was conducted by an incredibly sweet, professional, and talented junior by the name of Jeida from Atlantic City High School.  I thought it went extremely well, and Jeida ended the conversation by letting me know she wanted to interview me AGAIN in the near future.  And while the interview was going on (and while my hot wings were getting cold, but I’m not complaining because they weren’t worth the trouble; I have braces now), I began to schedule another interview with Montclair State University’s Alumni Association.  I got some sun, some sand, some good food, to experience the local flavor, and most importantly, to relax.  Life is good.

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

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