Employees

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On still insisting to see the ghosts.

Published September 13, 2017 by mandileighbean

Hello all! Welcome to another edition of Writers’ Wednesdays!

And boy, do I have a story for you. It’s quite the story; so much so that I have decided to forego the weekly writing prompt to share this story.

School started up a week ago, so I’ve been busy. Mostly, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted just trying to keep up with all the demands, but I also know this is partly because I’m hormonal and partly because I’m recovering from the extreme lethargy of summer break. It appears that more than my muscles entered a nearly lethal state of atrophy. To escape all of that ugliness, I was really looking forward to seeing “IT,” the new adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name. Well, for all of those reasons and because it would be a welcome return to familiar territory.

Even only an occasional reader of this blog knows that I’m something of a Stephen King fanatic. I think he’s absolutely brilliant. I’ve read most of his work – even the writing under his pseudonym of Richard Bachman – and I’ve seen all of the adaptations; the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve seen him at readings at least three times and have traveled out of state to do so. Next to F. Scott Fitzgerald, he’s my favorite author. And of all his works, IT has a special place in my heart and has affected me in a very profound way. I remember finishing the monster of a novel (pun very much intended) with a stunning clarity. I remember I was on the way to one of my twin sister’s many athletic competitions at our local high school, practically dragged kicking and screaming to help watch our little brother who is ten years our junior. I was sitting in the last seat of this monstrosity of a vehicle (last pun, I promise), this huge, black van that I absolutely despised. It was roomy, it was comfortable, it was a logical purchase, but it had a television. That’s not a bad thing, unless you were like me: a fifteen-year-old girl who considered herself rather literary and therefore superior. In a silent, pointless protest, I would bring books in the van to avoid the television, which often blared to entertain the other passengers.

I was the worst fifteen-year-old.

On a particularly dreary day, on my way back to the high school against my will, I was in the van and I was reading. I was going to finish IT, and I did so sobbing. The story is so beautiful, and I wept with a palpable, pulsating kind of ache because I wanted so desperately to be an integral part of a team on an important mission. I wanted so badly to have a shared purpose who loved me so much they would die for me, people who weren’t family so loving me would be a choice, more of a conscious decision. I wanted a Losers Club. I wanted to make and keep a promise to be a hero. I wanted to be an adult who was still a child. In short, I wanted everything that was in the novel. I needed it to be real.

Until September 8th of this year, the best I could was re-watch a badly outdated miniseries (that I still cherish, just to be clear).

I was so excited for the new adaptation, I made plans with a friend to purchase tickets early for a fancy theater with reclining leather seats, massive screens, and speakers that boomed so loud you can feel their vibrations inside your chest. I was going to travel to a movie theater in Howell that I’d never been to, that had only opened a few years ago. I posted about the adaptation and my plans on social media for months. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited for a movie (if I had to guess, it’d be the last “Harry Potter” movie).

And the film did not disappoint. At the time of this post, I’ve already seen it twice. If you haven’t seen the movie, do yourself a favor and make plans to go and see the movie. Whether or not you’ve read the massive novel, the story is brilliantly told with great care. That being said, the movie is also incredibly disturbing. It effortlessly gets underneath your skin and catches you at random moments throughout the day. It stays with you, changes you.

When I left the theater, my stomach hurt from the anxiety. My muscles were sore from cramping and my mind was reeling. All I wanted to do was talk about what I had seen, purge the myriad of my emotions onto my companions, relive the film’s best moments. But once we left the theater, we were told we could not enter the lobby and could not even go past the podium where tickets were ripped for admission. We saw a line of employees, a kind of human barricade. It was unsettling and unnerving, even more so because we stumbled , blinking into the lights of reality from a nightmare of a film. We weren’t told why we couldn’t leave, but rumor among the large number of people leaving theaters and filling the hallway was that something was going on in the parking. We nervously shifted for about ten minutes before deciding to go the bathroom. The females in my group pressed through the tense crowd, doing our best to politely make a path, and happened to pass a female police officer. She was busily making her way through the crowd and was being asked for information at every turn. We heard her say that we were safe inside the building, and that if we wanted to be extra safe, we would move further down the hallway and away from the glass windows.

I swallowed hard. I could tell the other women in my group were nervous and upset, so I did my best to stay calm and lighthearted. All the same, we moved down the hallway.

We were inside the theater for about forty minutes. People were making themselves comfortable, plugging phone chargers into available outfits, sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall. People were preparing for a long haul, and why shouldn’t they? There was lack of information and our phones were dying one by one. Finally, an intimidatingly muscular police office got the crowd’s attention and said we could leave as long as we stayed behind him, proceeded in an orderly fashion, and kept our voice down.

My stomach flipped over.

We did as instructed, my friends and I holding onto each other as we followed the officer. He led us to the far end of the hallway and through a rear exit out the side of the building. We left the doors, trampled over gravel along a chain link fence and ended up in an adjacent parking lot. We were not allowed to go to our cars; the parking lot was being searched and the police had established a perimeter. We waited for another twenty minutes in the chilly night air, rehashing everything that had happened so far and asking for any news. I called my father just before my phone died and asked him to pick us up; we weren’t sure when we’d be allowed back in the cars.

We saw cop cars go speeding by.

My dad arrived just as the police began to let people return to their cars and leave. I still went home with my dad, still seeking some familiar comfort and not wanting to be alone (I never really want to be alone). Saying goodbye to my friends, I smiled and agreed that we’d have a hell of a story to share.

But when I got in my dad’s truck, I cried. I cried really hard because I had been so scared. There was the movie and then there was the reality, and I was scared of both, and I was scared that they could never be distinguished between, and I was tired.

The employee who ripped our tickets, who guided us to the theater, who I bantered with for a few brief moments, was arrested because he had an inert hand grenade, two handguns – one of which was loaded – and hollow-point ammunition in his car. A fellow employee told the manager something was wrong, and the manager called the police. One of the theaters had an off-duty cop just trying to relax and catch a flick.

Thank God for the police, and thank God no one was hurt.

Leave it to Stephen King to scar me in unpredictable ways.

 

On being rich.

Published October 6, 2013 by mandileighbean

The older I grow, the more I believe that life truly does have a rather funny way of helping one out.  I am fortunate enough to find myself in winning situations more often than not.  For example, my dad offered to take me to see a film and then out to eat on Friday night.  My little brother came along, and we saw “Runner Runner” with Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck.  The movie was thoroughly entertaining (and I found Ben Affleck to be particularly engaging … and handsome) and as we were walking out of the theater, we were all intrigued by a small crowd outside.  They were all females; seven teenagers and two middle-aged women.  Dad, being the ultimate nosey body, asked what was up, and one of the women admitted they were in a bit of a pickle.  Apparently, the women had dinner plans and purchased tickets for the teenagers to see “Prisoners.”  However, because the movie was rated R, the employee who had sold the tickets insisted an adult over twenty-one years of age accompany the girls for the duration of the film and assured the women there would be a theater check conducted to prevent any kind of circumvention.  Dad started laughing because I had in fact argued for seeing “Prisoners,” even though he had already seen it with my little brother a week or so ago.  There I was, offered an opportunity to see a movie I was very anxious to see, for free.  It isn’t a cosmically epic moment that decides the fates of nations or anything as brilliant, but it is a moment nonetheless.  It is also the kind of moment that is readily and often attainable.  I wonder if I shouldn’t chase small smile moments such as those, rather than scenes from silver screens.

I know I’ll chase both.

 

WEEKLY PROMPT #3: “Four men decide to rob a bank.  Two of the men intend to take all of the money, even if it means killing their partners.”

bankrobbery1THIEVES

Harvey sat at the end of the emptying bar, a tumbler of warming whiskey before him.  He held his face in his hands, calloused palms scratched by the thick, rough bristles of hair coating his jawline and chin.  It had been a while since the last time Harvey had shaved, most likely because it had been a while since the last time Harvey had identified any reason to shave.  Pride in personal appearance had a tendency to go by the wayside when one found himself unemployed and miserable.  It was that exact desperation that had led him here, to this seedy bar.  Jeff, a buddy from Harvey’s old job, had stopped by the apartment to see how Harvey was making out.  The accumulated trash and lack of even basic maintenance had concerned Jeff, and so he sat Harvey down and shared a detailed yet outrageous plan to rob the local bank.  Harvey had scoffed until her saw the serious lines of Jeff’s face pull together in an almost convincing display.  Inexplicably outraged, Harvey had leapt to his feet and roared about laws and safety and the improbability of making it out of there alive, let alone with the money.  Jeff had persistent, however, and calmed Harvey down and inspired him with a dangerous kind of optimism that only desperate and miserable men are capable of.  Thus, Harvey had followed Jeff to the Bar Miraculous to meet with the others, some guys named Ben and Matt that Harvey had never seen before.  Ben was big and brawny, an intimidating fellow who seemed to dutifully follow Matt wherever and whenever.  Matt was significantly smaller than his counterpart, and to see them seated beside one another at the bar would have made John Steinbeck nostalgic for his ranchers in Soledad.

The men had sat side by side at the bar, four in a row.  They rarely, if ever, made eye contact with one another, and they talked out of the sides of their mouths, although Harvey hadn’t said a word.  He had only nodded or grunted to show his approval and consent.  The plan had been developed mainly by Matt, with Jeff tweaking and augmenting here and there as he seemed to be more familiar with the area and even the employees.  The next course of action was to meet at Matt’s apartment in two nights, to case the bank the night before.  They would also discuss further details and tighten any and all loose ends; dot the Is and cross the Ts as it were.  Suddenly and simply, Matt and Ben had excused themselves and left.  Jeff clapped Harvey on the shoulder and headed to the restroom.  Thus, Harvey had been left to his own devices, to sit and drink and think.  He wasn’t sure how he felt, how truly on board he was.  Robbers never got away with it, not even in the movies, and they were not professionals by any stretch of the imagination.  They were bums, average Joes who had suffered no great tragedy, but only wanted more than what they had faster than they could acquire it.  Planning to rob a bank did not make them some antiheroes or anything as glamorous.  It did not make them intelligent or brave.  If anything, it defined them as lazy and cruel and dumb, dumb for taking such an absurd risk.  They were no Dillinger, seemingly stealing from the rich.  They were the poor so they would take and keep for themselves; where was the honor in that?  Amidst Harvey’s existential sort of crisis, Jeff returned.  There was the familiar clap on the shoulder and groan of the aged, wooden bar stool as Jeff reclaimed his seat.

“So what do you think?  How are you feeling?”

Harvey shrugged and took the tumbler before him in his hand.  Rather than sip from it, he moved his wrist to swirl the alcohol and he pensively watched the liquid lap against the sides.  “I don’t know, man.  It’s awfully risky.”

“It is,” Jeff conceded, “but look at us, man.  Look at our lives, for Christ’s sake.  We work too God damn hard to be this fucking poor.”  He drank deeply from the bottle before him.  “Shit, they kicked you to the curb.  How long do you figure you’ll kick around, practically begging for a job, any job, even if it’s below your pay grade and skill level?  What way is that for anyone to live?”

“I agree, you know I do, but –”

“Matt has everything figured out, Harvey.  He has it timed to the fucking second, I shit you not.  As long as we stick to the time table, we’ll be fine, just about untouchable.”  Jeff smiled.  “What have you got to lose?”

Harvey was not amused.  “Oh, I don’t know; my life?  My freedom?”  In fact, Harvey was only sarcastic and bitter.

“It’s a solution to a problem,” Jeff persisted.  “We need money, so we take money.  We’re talking enough to get the hell out of dodge and start over.  We can be whoever we want to be.  We don’t have to be losers who go home alone night after night in cars that barely start in clothes off the clearance rack.”  He looked down at the wooden grain of the countertop of the bar.  He lowered his voice.  “And if we knock off Matt and Ben, pin it on them and silence them, we can get away scot free.”

Harvey’s eyes went wide.  “What?”

“The only thing holding you back is getting caught, right?  Of course it is; that makes sense!  So let’s eliminate that and we are suddenly completely uninhibited!”

“Stealing is one thing, Jeff, but murder is another.  I can’t –”

“You’re going to go all noble on me, really?  Do I have to remind you about the office Christmas party?  Nancy was all sorts of messed up, but that didn’t stop you from –”

“Shut up,” Harvey said.  He had intended it to be a command, but it had been more of a desperate plea.  That’s all he was, was desperate.  Jeff knew it, and seized upon the opportunity.

“Come on, man.  They’re nothing to us.  We could be doing the universe a karmic favor.  What do you say?”

Harvey looked at himself for a long, long moment in the cracked mirror above the shelves of liquor.

bankrobbery

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.

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