Friday, October 29, 2021

G.B. (part 6 - final)

The Packers beat the Football Team on Sunday. They were 6-1 and running away with the NFC North as usual. It was hard for me to get excited about this, for several reasons.

Tompa Bay and Arizona also won, and one of them would surely pound the Pack in the NFC title game. The Cardinals probably wouldn't even wait that long. Green Bay had to head to the desert this week, on short rest, and take on the undefeated Cards without their two top receivers Thursday night.

Also, my mind was somewhere else - as it had been pretty much all year.

I had not seen Office Girl in nine days. All of that momentum from the night at the Cantina had evaporated. Happens every time.

What would it be like seeing her now, after her vacation? I felt a little sheepish for texting her (twice) since saying goodbye at the bar, but it's okay because she's definitely leaving in 12 days and I wont ever see her again. Right?


I caught my first glimpse of her Monday morning when she walked past me on her way to the owner's office. I noticed her festive outfit - black dress, black cardigan, black tights, and black buckle shoes. She looked like the prettiest witch in all of Salem.

"Hey stranger." I smiled when she returned.

"Hi." She said quickly, surreptitiously placing something on my mouse pad.  It looked like a tiny rolled up piece of paper at first.

"What's that?" G asked me. "What did she give you?"


I had an idea of what it was, and what it was for, since I'd briefly searched for a potential birthday gift for her.

"Now I know she hates me." G shrugged. "I didn't get anything." You got all those million dollar bills, G.

Around 11:30 a.m. I went up to the front office looking for JR. I had planned to ask Office Girl about her vacation once I was done discussing work things with him, but at the exact moment I turned to her.. the phone rang. Of course.

Fortunately I caught her in the hallway a couple hours later, just as she was exiting the ladies' room. She hadn't seen me and was on her way back to her desk when I called for her. "How was your vacation?"

"It was amazing!" Office Girl beamed. It was her first vacation in five years, the first since she had her daughter, and she really needed a week away from the office.

When we were at the Cantina she showed me the tattoo of her daughter's name on her left wrist. She'd planned to get a pentagram tattoo on her right wrist while in Salem. I asked her to show it to me. "That was my favorite part." She said, rolling up the sleeve of her black cardigan. OG had decided to get more ink on her lower forearm, some kind of globe design with energy waves on either side. I didn't get a good look, the ink hadn't settled in yet, and I didn't want to be too nosy.

"Oh! I have another gift for you." Office Girl led me to her cubicle and rifled through a cream-colored tote bag underneath her desk. She handed me a piece of Palo Santo and explained how she uses it. "You light one end, wave it around, and it cleanses all the negative energy in your house."


I didn't exactly believe in that mystical stuff. I'm not a fan of tattoos, either. But I know that people like to discuss the things they like without being criticized. Di's niece (who's only a couple years younger than Office Girl) got some ink a couple summers ago and her conservative family was clutching their pearls over how she was wrecking the skin God gave her, or whatever. Did I have that same thought when I saw OG's right arm? Yeah, kinda. But I also remembered how much my (wife's) niece appreciated me for asking about it and saying it was "cool."

Around 3 p.m. I shot Office Girl a quick text. I probably should have thought this through, but...
"Now that you've had some time to recharge have you decided to stay here or are you still leaving in 2 weeks?"
Gulp. I could feel the anxiety rising through me. It's probably better that I asked her this way than in person. Wouldn't want her to see my reaction either way.
I'm not sure, I mean I already gave my notice but we'll see. I will talk to them and see where I stand this week.
At the end of the day no matter what I do I just have to do what's best for me and my daughter.


Less than five minutes later another prescient song played on G's Pandora: "To Love Somebody." Shut up!

On my way out of the office I told Office Girl that I liked her sweater. "Thank you." She replied.

"Thank you for the gifts." I indicated the sage stick. "What's the stone for?"

"It's for self-love."


My immediate thought was to keep Office Girl's gifts in my pocket and not mention them to Di. But it felt wrong to keep it from her, and I wanted to get Di's reaction.

"Weirdo." She scoffed. 

Yup. Coulda bet money on that.

It confounds me how people become more narrow-minded and intolerant with age. Aren't we supposed to mature as we get older? My co-workers could easily think I'm a weirdo for not drinking or driving. OG could dismiss me for being older and not very attractive or interesting. But they don't and she doesn't because this isn't high school.

On Tuesday our girl started doing leg lifts as soon as she got in the office. That bothered G as we were expecting a nor'easter and a busy day. But no, by all means, get your workout in first. G asked Hebert if he had scheduled any interviews for office help. "Not for today." He replied.

The job listing for receptionist/administrative assistant had been up on Indeed since last Monday. We still hadn't found anyone the bosses were excited about. I was beginning to worry that our new office girl would be... Office Girl.

Wednesday was G's birthday. JR offered to buy her a Cuban sandwich for lunch. After he left Baldy and Hebert discussed doing something for his last day as he's moving to the Buffalo area next week. They were under the impression that he'd be around for a few days while he packed up and that we could have cocktails next Friday. That would also be Office Girl's last day. I was already preparing myself.
 
I don't see how I can say goodbye to her in front of everyone, but I don't want to call her outside and turn my goodbye into some awkward teen drama confession, either.


Option #3 would be to tell everyone I'm going to the bar, not go, and then text G or OG that "Something came up. Family emergency. Very sorry."


I can't just give her a hug and say "Nice working with you" though. It's either some kind of confession "I adore you, and I will miss you, but I'm relieved that you're leaving because..." or the coward's way out. No in between.


Thursday was tense. Hebert scheduled some interviews for office help. I kept telling myself Office Girl was only here for seven more days. "Say something to her! Go up there and visit her while you still can." But nothing was coming to mind. And when I did go up there to mail a letter.. Dok was talking to her.

Temperatures were finally dropping into the 50s. The heater was on in the room and OG looked all cozy and adorable in her camo hoodie and black leggings. I wanted to snuggle in the worst way.


The Packers played an excellent game against Arizona that night. Aaron Jones came within an inch of putting the game out of reach. Same for Aaron Rodgers. Kyler Murray and the Cardinals were backed up at their own 1-yard line and needed a field goal to tie. They went for the win, and...


How the hell did we do that? Green Bay's top three receivers were out, tight end Robert Tonyan got injured during the game, and they still beat an undefeated team with a dual-threat QB. Wow.

 
Friday was JR's last day. Those of us in the back office were not aware of this. He was packing up and moving out this weekend. G was very upset that she didn't have more time to plan a send-off. JR had told her about a month ago that he was leaving "in about a month." If she was ever aware of the exact date, she'd clearly forgotten.

Lunch arrived at about 12:45 p.m. I heard Office Girl washing her hands in the kitchen sink and asked if her (four year old) daughter was going trick-or-treating. "Yes." She sighed. "With her father." Clearly OG loves Halloween and she was disappointed that she wouldn't have her little one for the holiday weekend. "Asshole." She said of her ex.

I followed her into the inspector's room. G had spread out our usual free lunch Friday fare: three pizzas, fried ravioli (Young Guy's fave) penne vodka, salad, garlic knots, and a sausage roll. As our girl grabbed a garlic knot and a plate of penne I asked her if she'd decided to stay with the company or not. She hadn't.

There were things she wanted to do, and she was trying to get more information. She considered bar tending and asked her mom if she would watch her little Poppy at night. Her mom had declined twice before finally throwing up her hands and saying "fine." It seems to me that OG doesn't have the most loving or supportive family, but she denied that was the case when we spoke on the phone.

I didn't want to sway her one way or the other - and I didn't really have any useful advice - but I told her that I wanted to know so that we could plan something for her if she does leave 😉

The two slices of pizza on my plate stayed untouched for the duration of our conversation. Office Girl noticed and apologized. I shrugged it off. "No, it's fine. I'm sorry for interrupting your meal." Whenever I talk to that woman I never want it to end. I was too focused on her and those feckin freckles.

I was a ball of nerves by 3 p.m. Work was the farthest thing from my mind. I kept checking the monitor and not seeing JR. Did he leave already? Did I miss my chance to say goodbye? And where the hell is Office Girl?

It occurred to me that she needed to step out of the office to clear her head, as she had during her vacation. At 3:20 p.m. she texted me:

I decided to stay




G left for the day at around 4:20 p.m. Still no sign of JR. I was told he'd return to the office at some point to pack up his things, so I wrote him a good-bye note:


Five minutes later Baldy informed me JR had returned. I packed up around 4:50 p.m. to give myself some time with him. I stood in line as Baldy and JR hugged it out. Then I told him everything I'd written down - and a little more. "Same, man." He said a couple times. I gave him a bro hug before clocking out.


"And you." I said to Office Girl. "I'm glad you're staying."

She hunched her shoulders and grinned like my words were a warm hug on a cold day.

It's as close as I'll ever get. Until we say goodbye.




The End



~~

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

How Do I Say Goodbye? (part 5)

October 18 was the first day of rehearsal. 

Temperatures were struggling to touch 60F, but the back office felt stuffy.

Every autumn there's a week or two when you know it's too cold to turn on the air conditioner, and yet you've become so accustomed to having it on for the past few months that you feel uncomfortable without it. Something is missing. It's too quiet.

 

Early that Monday morning I was excited. I didn't have to worry about getting in early, didn't have to say "Good morning" to Office Girl. Didn't have to worry about her strutting in to our back office, or calling me with questions, or running into her in the hallway. I could go up front with impunity.

Less than an hour later I found myself quivering at my desk. My heart felt heavy. Something is missing. It's too quiet.


Without my favorite receptionist around to answer phone calls I had to be G's backup. This always gave me some anxiety as I had very limited knowledge of handling incoming calls.

About twice a week I take my lunch away from my desk. Usually I go out into the warehouse and sit by the open garage door. It was too cold for that, but I wanted to enjoy my lunch without feeling obligated to answer the phones (or listen to Luke Bryan on G's Pandora playlist) and so I ate my lunch at Office Girl's desk.

K-dub and JR were hard at work, I was only able to have one brief and awkward conversation with them. I didn't need to sit in OG's seat; Dok wasn't at his desk and I could have had lunch there. But I didn't know when he'd be back.

Once I returned to my desk and worked through my afternoon to-do list I had a heightened awareness of the songs on G's playlist. It seemed like every song I heard was trying to tell me something - or maybe I was over-analyzing them because I had all this extra space in my mind.

This song isn't a perfect fit (she's not dead, she's on vacation) but I hadn't heard it in so long. Boyz II Men were staples of my junior high and early high school years. Makes sense I'd hear this since OG made me feel 15 again. Also.. how do I say goodbye to her?

It wasn't just this somber tune that sparked my suspicions. I also heard Hinder's "Lips Of An Angel" (girl, you make it hard to be faithful...) and "Before He Cheats" (gfy, Carrie.)

 


That night the ALCS moved to Boston for Game 3, not far from Office Girl's vacation spot. The Red Sox picked up where they left off in Game 2 - another strong pitching performance, and another offensive explosion. Kyle Schwarber's grand slam in the second gave our guys a 6-0 lead en route to a 12-3 thrashing. Boston looked unbeatable.

On the NLCS side, 88-win Atlanta's 2-0 lead on the defending champion Dodgers had me looking ahead to a Boston-Braves World Series.

I seemed to recall that the Sox beat the Braves back in the early days of Fenway Park, but those two teams never met in a Fall Classic. I guess my knowledge of early 20th century Series matchups is slipping.

Those visions, along with Eddie Rodriguez's brief moment of modest retaliation (which his target seemed to appreciate but his own manager definitely did not) put a jinx on the Sox' series hopes.

Boston clung to a 2-1 lead late in Game 4. Play-by-play announcer Joe Buck wondered aloud how Astros manager Dusty Baker was going to cobble together enough pitching to get them back in the series.



Back at the office, I had adjusted to life without my lady friend. She wasn't on my mind as much mid-week, though there was one thing I had wanted to do.

G had always had a goal of collecting a million dollars in a month. With the 'help' of Hurricane Ida, we did it in September. I bought a stack of novelty million dollar bills to celebrate, gave them to G, and suggested that she pass them out to everyone in the office. She kept them all. 

Luckily I'd ordered one for myself and stuck it on my wall. But I mentioned to Office Girl that she should have one because she took a lot of credit card payments over the phone. We couldn't have done this without you.

Before I even sat down Wednesday morning I removed the million dollar bill from my wall and stuck it to hers. It fit perfectly in the empty space between pictures of OG with her daughter.

Thursday afternoon we heard some clanging coming from the warehouse. The guy from the bar (who drank OG's drink) was helping Bossman put together a grill. I didn't know if this was for us or a customer but there was talk of a cookout.

When I punched out that night K-dub asked me what I'm bringing. I didn't think he was serious. JR answered for me "Beers!" He shouted.

Sure enough, the rumors were true. Free Lunch Friday consisted of a seemingly endless supply of kosher and non-kosher meats, grilled peppers and eggplant, salad, rice and beans, tortilla chips, and Hebert's chocolate raspberry liqueur cake. We ate like kings. Damn hell ass kings.
 

Oh you should be here
Yeah this is one of those moments that's 
got your name written all over it
And you know that if I have just one wish 
it'd be that you didn't have to miss this
Aw you should be here
You should be here


With this song in my head - and without a second thought - I texted a couple pictures to OG. "Hope you're having an awesome time in Salem. The bosses decided to have a cookout today." Wish you were here.

During the cookout I asked G about the new girl, and who she was replacing. "She's the new [JR]."

Baldy asked about the old 'new' girl. "Is she not coming back?"

G surmised that she would come back - and stay - since she didn't have another job lined up, and she needs to support her child somehow. She might be right. Or she might be underestimating OG's pride and ability to earn money independently. We shall see.

Houston stuck a fork in us that night. The Red Sox' offense evaporated. Trash Cans 5, Apple Watches 0.


The Dodgers couldn't come back against Atlanta, losing their series in 6 the next night. However there was one comeback on Saturday....


I checked my work e-mail briefly and I saw you-know-who's name about a dozen times.





~



Monday, October 25, 2021

Good Night (part 4)

"Chris!" One or two people called to me, waving me over to a round table near the center of the bar.

I was relaxed and excited the second I saw Young Guy to my left. "There he is!" I shook his hand. "What's up, man?"

He told us all about his new job at a major insurance company. "Health benefits? Paid time off? 401k? What -- those are real?" He was happy, and the four of us were happy for him.

I turned to my right, where I naturally noticed Office Girl. I didn't want to waste any time getting answers. "Looks like you got out just in time." I told Young Guy, leaving OG an opening to tell her story. June chimed in with one of her own. She almost quit, too.

"What did you hear?" Office Girl asked me. I told her that G and Dok had a little meeting, Dok offered to hire some help for her, and that's when OG quit.

She shook her head. "That's not how it happened!" Then she told me that G had been rude and nasty to her for quite some time, even before I'd talked to her on the phone. Dok had asked her earlier in the week if she'd planned to quit. I wasn't the only one worried that G would chase her away for good.

I heard myself doing exactly what G expected us to do when she told us she wasn't coming. I was talking about her behind her back. "She does say good things about you though." I added.

After a few minutes of discussing office drama Office Girl had noticed she was neglecting Young Guy. She addressed him from across the table, apologizing and explaining that "Chris and I never get to talk." At one point she held her fists together against her chest in what I think was supposed to symbolize a heart.

My eyes drifted upward, to the TV screen above and behind Hebert. Stand by, sports. I might need you again tonight.


The crawl along the bottom of the screen informed me that Charlie McAvoy signed an eight-year extension with the Bruins, making him the highest paid player in franchise history. He's also the greatest athlete ever with my wife's maiden name. That... could have been a sign from the universe.

Drinks were ordered. I inquired about raspberry iced tea, but they only serve unsweetened. More water for me.

"You don't drink?" OG asked me. "That's cool."

"No!" I replied. "It's not cool. It's completely uncool." I skipped explaining why I didn't drink and described all that I had missed out on - cool parties, cool people. June joined OG in assuring me that I hadn't missed out. 

Shortly after the drinks arrived she and her office bestie talked. They have become very close, and June has offered to let OG and her daughter move in with her family in their five-bedroom house. June has four kids, though two of them are college-age. And she kicked her husband out a couple months ago.

That caught my interest. "You kicked him out?" I asked.

Her husband was bringing her down with his constant complaining and negative energy. He never wanted to do anything, or go anywhere. I hadn't pictured June as a particularly cheerful person, but she was a decent hang outside of the office. And the things she was saying about her (ex?) husband were hitting home hard.

June was my age. She had been with her spouse about as long as I've been with mine, and she adored OG. I do not need to hear this right now.

I hinted at having similar problems but couldn't go there - "If I had a few drinks in me I'd say some things." I said to June. She told me that I didn't need them, but I thought she meant that I was already loose and having a good time.

I made it to the 'cool kids' table

June may have been on to something. Office Girl and I were chatting like never before. We discussed all the times that I had worried she was going to quit or get fired. Once in a while I'd send her a message to "hang in there, we need you" but I told her I wasn't going to do that anymore. I wasn't going to talk her out of leaving.

OG told me how fun and relaxed the front office team is. June commented that I might seem quiet but I'm "absorbing" everything that's going on. "You should work up front, Chris." Someone suggested.

"If I worked up front I'd just be talking to her all day." Without looking I placed my hand on Office Girl's upper arm. I could have shaken it off and apologized but that would have made it more awkward. It was fine. It felt natural. She didn't react, and neither did I.


When I walked her to the diner in April I'd started to ask her about the father of her child. I wanted to know how their arrangement was going, and why they broke up. Six months later I was able to ask OG everything I wanted to know (except the guy's name.) They met in their early twenties and fell in love, but she moved on because her interests were changing and expanding. They grew apart, but she said he's a good dad and their relationship is cordial.

I asked her if this guy was her age, or older. It must have been loud at the bar because I thought she said he was a dozen years older when she said a couple. (Why would she have said "dozen" anyhow?)

"Oh, no no." She corrected me. "But I've had lots of boyfriends since then. Of all ages."

Sometime after 6:30 p.m. Office Girl started checking her phone. She was planning on going tanning and would have to leave the bar by 7 p.m. if she wanted to make it there before the salon closed. No one wanted her to leave early, least of all yours truly. She didn't want to go but she also didn't want to be pale.

I turned and looked directly at her flawless face and said what was on my mind without any hesitation. "You've got the perfect skin tone right now."

Office Girl scrolled through her phone and said she was going to show me what she looks like when she doesn't tan. Turning her phone to me, she showed me a picture of her pale face and her hair in bangs. She looked tiny, much thinner than I was used to. "How long ago was that?" I was expecting her to say three years ago. 

"March.. maybe April." She replied. I'd remembered her bangs, and I'd had a vague sense that she was thinner at the start of the year. But her current look was so lively and alluring.

Which is why I got silently angry at June a short time later. 

Both ladies were discussing what they did before working here. Each ran their own business - OG had an Etsy shop ("--I made it to the front page!") and June worked with plastic surgery patients. She'd done some work in the Dominican Republic, and it sounded like she helped educate women on what surgery might be right for them. It's entirely possible that these were necessary surgeries, not cosmetic.

I didn't hear it that way. As June described the details of how a certain surgery is done I fought the urge to interject. Don't give her any ideas. She's fucking perfect the way she is. Back off!


The five of us had finished our drinks and our dinner around 7:30. We had just paid our waitress when Hebert received word that Baldy was coming. We felt obligated to wait for him.

The Devils' season opener was on the TV by the men's room. Jersey's team led Chicago 1-0. Office Girl had decided to "stay and be pale."

"Booooo!" I replied. I have no idea why I did that, but it was obviously sarcastic.

When Baldy arrived he pulled up a chair in between me and Young Guy. He offered to buy every one a round, which convinced June to stay just a bit longer. At one point she led our girl to the ladies' room. I couldn't help but wonder if they might have talked about me. Was my friendliness close enough to flirting that June would have mentioned it? Or did it fly below her radar?

It's more likely that she was just trying to get away from her boss.

Around 8pm OG stepped outside. She was on the phone getting two of our crew members to join our table. I'd never even met one of them but they both fist-bumped me anyhow. June said she had to get home because her son needed her. Her chair wasn't vacated for long.

"Chris, come sit." Office Girl patted the chair next to her.


As I made my way to the other side of the table Baldy made a joke. "Do I smell that bad?"

Again, without any filter, I replied "I mean.. if you have a chance to sit next to [Office Girl] you take it."

Even with two extra guys around (including one who drank her drink because our waitress was done with our table and he couldn't get served.) OG still checked in with me. "So, what's up?" She asked. It was one more chance to tell or ask her anything. But all I said was "I'm probably gonna go soon."

I tried hard to hold out for one more conversation but I had to check in with Di and start heading home.

It was almost 9 p.m. June had returned. She wanted to have a drink with Office Girl at the bar, away from the guys. I didn't know when OG would be back, and I couldn't wait any longer. I texted her that I was leaving.

"Awh okay! We're at the bar stop by and say bye if you can" she replied.

I gave the guys a fist bump and headed for the bar. Chicago had tied the game 1-1.

Our girl offered to give me a ride home. As much as I would have loved the extra one-on-one time with her I didn't want to make her leave early just for me. I knew she wanted to stay and hang with June. "I'm staying." June chimed in.

With that, I said good-bye. I would have hugged OG but I didn't feel comfortable offering June a hug, so I just waved.

"Text me if you need me." Office Girl said.


In the ten months I've known this woman I have never been so comfortable around her for so long. It's probably a good thing we didn't meet up at the park. Being outgoing and unfiltered could only lead to trouble.

When I returned home Di showed me highlights of the game-winning goal Jack Hughes scored:



The Red Sox were leading the Astros 3-1 in Game 1 of the ALCS. I was pleased, but sports scores were just not important to me at that moment.

I went upstairs to bed sometime around 10:15 p.m. and thought of Office Girl.

When did she leave? Did she get home okay? Did she talk about me?


What would it be like...to be with her?


I clutched my pillow and slept. Alone. As always.




~

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Hello, Goodbye (part 3)

When the Red Sox won the AL Wild Card game and moved on to face the 100-win Rays in the ALDS I was satisfied. If this is as far as we get, that's okay. This year's Sawx didn't feel like a world champion to me, and Tampa teams had owned the sports landscape since Blake Snell was yanked early in Game 6 of last year's World Series. (I'll never forget how Young Guy was still in disbelief about it the next morning - and he was a neutral fan.)

 

A lot changed in four days. Just after sunset on October 7th I was semi-sneaking out of the house to talk to Office Girl on the phone. Later that night the Sox were shut out in Game 1 of the Division Series. I was optimistic about the next day, expecting that OG and I could build on our conversation - and expecting Boston's bats to tee off on Rays rookie Shane Baz.

If I could only have one... I would have taken the other. But at least I knew. Every time I try to give Office Girl the benefit of the doubt I regret it. Instantly. I knew from the moment I first laid eyes on her, way back in December that girl is going to be trouble.

On Sunday 10/10, the Packers squeaked past the Bengals in an epic overtime battle and the Red Sox outlasted the Rays in a 13-inning thriller. They were one win away from advancing to the ALCS. Hockey season was just around the corner. Fall was hitting its sweet spot. The weather was still comfortable, but gradually cooling off just a bit. The sights and smells and sounds of the season were filling me with calm, cozy vibes. 


I'd decided to be cordial with Office Girl - but I was only going to discuss work things from now on. No more personal conversations. No more looking out for her. No more phone calls or texts. Keep it professional.


It was crucial for me to hold firm to this through October 15th. I did not want to acknowledge her upcoming vacation to Salem - before or after she left.

not the same Salem, oddly enough

Our girl is into spirits and burning sage and all that mystical stuff. This was going to be her first vacation since her daughter was born, and she was very excited. I did not want to hear about it. I did not want to care. And I knew that if I didn't say anything to her throughout those five days, she would not share the details with me (or show me any pictures) when she returned.

I almost made it.

Monday through Wednesday was a breeze. I was starting to waver Thursday afternoon (I have such a weakness for that woman) but I somehow held myself back. And then... Friday the 15th arrived.

Two things were happening at virtually the same time that morning. June had enjoyed cocktail time at the Cantina so much that she'd wanted to organize another one. Hebert and Baldy were in. G couldn't make it on such short notice. I wasn't invited. Couldn't care less.


Until...

Dok approached G's desk. I could tell they didn't want me to hear what was being said because he spoke very softly and she held a legal pad over their faces.

Then Dok gestured for her to continue their conversation in the conference room.

A few minutes later she uttered the words I'd been hoping to hear on and off for months.


"Well, [Office Girl] just quit."



The first thing that came to mind was Bill Pullman's speech from that mid-'90s alien movie:

I legit watched this (with headphones on) at the office

My manager's side of the story was thus: OG was clearly overwhelmed, she still had trouble finishing the work that was expected of her and never called G to tell her she needed help as she had been asked to do several times.

Dok offered to a) hire some help for her and b) set them up in the spare room so that OG isn't distracted by all the fellas up front. Her reaction to this news was allegedly to give her two week's notice - three, since she was going on vacation.


Our "friendship" had been defined by a seemingly endless cycle of pushing toward her and pulling back. Every time something positive occurred it was immediately followed by something negative or, at the very least, something that gave me pause. Whenever I'd go talk to her the phone would ring within seconds. I thought I was maybe going to the park with her and she ghosted me. I talked to her on the phone and straightened it out. She called out of work the next day. 

The universe is always trying to keep me away from her. Almost from the beginning....


The only time I'd had a nice conversation with her away from the office was the day the plumbing was shut off and she really had to use the ladies' room. It was a Friday in April. Spring fever and all that.

She approached G about her issue and didn't know what to do. I had stopped into the diner down the street about an hour earlier. A light bulb went off, sending electric currents of self-confidence coursing through me. I offered to walk her to the diner so she could use their bathroom. She was unsure if she'd be "allowed" to leave the office.

"They shut off the water." I insisted. "They have to let you go." I was the one who told Dok I was taking her to the diner, and why. I was the one who returned his disapproving glance with a defiant stare on our way out the door.

My reward was a brief but lovely conversation with her on the way to and from the Michigan Deli. I stood inside the front door of the diner and waited for her. The lady at the counter (who might be the owner?) asked if I needed anything. "No, I'm just waiting for my friend." I'd so wanted to throw 'girl-' in front of that. Who would know?

On our walk back to the office I took a moment to admire her and realized that I hadn't felt this good with a girl since I was a teenager. I wanted to go back. Not to the office. Back in time.

"Thank you for walking with me." She smiled. Lol are you kidding? This has been the best day I've had in forever - and you're thanking me?!?

I spent that whole weekend thinking about her. She spent that weekend getting her septum pierced.

Fixed it for you

Here it was, six months later. I've listened to the universe, felt guilty about it whenever Office Girl would gently hint at why I avoid her, tried being friendly again, and fell on my face again. Rinse and repeat.

Naturally, the cycle started churning again. Curiosity got the best of me. Why did she really quit? I wondered.

Hebert got up to leave around 4:30 p.m. He invited me to the Cantina "See you over there? Same place, same time?"

I told him I'd "probably" go but I hadn't actually decided either way. I needed to know who else would be there.

K-dub couldn't make it. G couldn't make it. Besides Baldy, Hebert, and June.. who was going?

Whenever I leave for the day I often enter the front room cautiously, walking a slightly curved path past OG's desk and between K-Dub and JR's desks. I always see the back of our girl's chair a split second before I see the sheen of her long and perfectly straight hair.

My wide turn toward the punch clock was a lot tighter this time. "Hey, are you going to the bar tonight?" I asked her as I passed.

"Yeah, are you going?" Office Girl replied.

I am now. "Yeah. I'll be there. You and I need to talk." I pointed.

"Yes." she nodded knowingly. 

 
Getting there was a grind. Office Girl offered me a ride there but I declined. "He don't need you. He got his own ride." K-dub chimed in.

Di couldn't pick me up from work until 5:30 because there was an accident on the highway. Today of all days? Fuck! I hadn't even told her about cocktail time, I had just decided I was going. She initially resisted. "There's no way." But by this point I was determined.

I still needed to get home, shower, get changed, and get some money. We got stuck in more traffic on the way back. This is stupid. I thought.

"Hey are you coming?" OG texted me right before 6pm. I was standing at the entrance to the Cantina, waiting for the hostess. Four people were there before me. None of them were in line. I couldn't see where my co-workers were sitting, but I had no intention of bailing this time.

I had to go see about a girl.




~



Thursday, October 21, 2021

Saying Goodbye (part 2)

"Hi, [Office Girl] 😃 this is Chris. How was your road trip?"


Sunday, October 3rd. The last day of the baseball season. The Red Sox and Yankees were tied, clinging to the two wild-card spots. The Blue Jays and (*checks notes*) Mariners were still alive. If there was anything for me to feel nervous about that day, it should have been the possibility that "we" would fail to sweep the last-place Nationals and miss the playoffs while "they" would beat the first-place Rays and make the dance.

I sat on the bench at the park down the street from my house. My "home" park. Di took the girls to brunch with her mom, and planned to stay at Grandma's for a few hours after. It was 11:30 a.m. when I texted OG. I put the phone down, took a sip from my 20 oz bottle of Mountain Dew, and waited.

Ten minutes passed. No reply. I got up and walked around the blacktop track encircling the small park. 

It was my ex-girlfriend's birthday. I only think about her twice a year - on December 30, the anniversary of our first night/morning together, and on October 3. Happy birthday, Fi. Wherever you are.

The last time I saw her .. the World Trade Center towers were still standing. Tom Brady was just some random dude backing up Drew Bledsoe. He might have even been third-string. Did New England still have Scott Zolak? [editor's note: no]

Office Girl would have been just a couple years older than her daughter is now. Damn.

Still no response from her. I thought, as the afternoon arrived. She must be driving back home. I kept walking.

At around 1pm I thought of my high school crush, Kristen. She gave me her phone number. She seemed interested in hanging out. And when I called her to meet up some place.. she was always too busy.

By 2pm it was obvious that Office Girl was not going to reply. I was back home, making lunch and watching football. The Packers beat Pittsburgh later that day. The Red Sox and Yankees both won, clinching a clash in the wild-card game, which would be played at Fenway Park.

The next day I made sure to arrive at work early, before OG. I didn't want to see her.

She called my office phone a couple times, with customers and questions. Sometime around 4pm she appeared at my desk. I didn't even want to look at her.

"I replied to your text." She said.

"I saw." I muttered.

She had indeed replied:

Hi Chris! My road trip was exhausting but fun! How was your weekend?

Was, as in past tense. Because she sent that message Monday morning. 


I avoided her as much as I could that Tuesday. Boston vanquished the Yanks in the wild-card game, which may have put me in a more forgiving mood on Wednesday. Until...

"Hey, can you scan and email this to a customer for me? I have it on my phone but I can't send it."

"Sure."

Immediately after Office Girl left the room G raised an eyebrow. "Why can't she do that herself?"

"I dunno."

Then G raised both eyebrows. She looked up at the monitor. "..aaand now she's doing leg lifts."

"Oh really?" I glanced up at the screen. Forgiveness rescinded. Paperwork not scanned.


The back office crew were particularly fed up with her that Thursday. G had been complaining about her work for days but now the estimating department was taking turns whacking the pinata. Baldy wanted to know what could be done about the guys up front distracting her. Hebert entered the room.

"I don't know how that girl is still alive." He relayed a story about how she sleeps with a heater on at night. Or... a hair dryer. "How has she not burned her house down?" That started a new round of pinata whacking. I joined in. I told G about my plan to meet up with her in the park, and my Sunday morning text.

"Do you know when she replied?"

"Today?"

"Close." I waved my arms and shrugged. 

I went for a walk that night. The warm days were dwindling and the sun was setting earlier so I'd planned to stay out as long as possible. Instead I rushed home, where I'd left my phone. I texted Office Girl. 

I was upset that she left me hanging on Sunday. I was upset that she gave me work to do so she could work out. And I was very upset that everyone was taking shots at her - and I didn't know the truth.

She replied much faster this time. Like... right away. 

"I'm trying hard to be your friend and I don't know what I'm doing wrong." Oh...honey.

We texted for a while and then she asked if she could call me. I took the phone outside. My daughter was on her way back from a friend's house. I waved her inside and told her I'd be right back.


I got a clearer picture of her daily routine, and how much her manager Dok defends and encourages her. I learned a lot and I shared what I knew. Our girl really seemed to think that G was being disrespectful and unreasonable. She talks down to OG, possibly because she's so much younger. "I'm a grown-ass woman!" she said at one point.

It felt good to get things out in the open, to hear her side. But the gossip didn't feel good. (I tried framing it as playing peace-maker.) And I had to tell Di that I was talking to Office Girl. "Work drama." I explained.


That Friday I entered the office feeling better than I'd had all week. I was excited to see Office Girl.

"[OG]'s not coming in today." G informed me, before I even had a chance to sit down. "She's not feeling well."

"Huh. That's interesting." I didn't mean to say it out loud.

"Why is that interesting?"

"I talked to her last night. She sounded fine."



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------





If you missed Part 1 you can read it here

Story continues Monday, after I circle back to your blogs.

I'm not sure how long this story will be - 8 posts maybe?


Thanks for reading!



~

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Saying Goodbye (part 1)

The Red Sox were losing.

It was only the first inning, but the Yankees were already smacking around Nathan Eovaldi, who I had assumed was our best starter. I looked up at the TV directly above me. Could this night get any worse?

"What are they wearing?" My manager - yet another Yankee fan - asked me.


"Boston Marathon jerseys." I told her.

"They're awful." She replied.

So was that pitch to Aaron Judge. I muttered.

I had stopped watching baseball sometime in August. I hadn't been following the standings, but I knew the Sox had lost their grip on a playoff spot and that the Yankees had caught and passed them. This was a must-win game, starting off a must-win series. And Boston was not going to win.

Looking back, this was the least important detail of the night.

Young Guy had told G and I he was leaving. He took days off, came in late, kept saying he had "dentist appointments." But my manager and I knew what was going on. He was going on job interviews.

One day, while G was on the phone, Young Guy smiled and shook my hand. It took me a couple seconds to realize why. "You got it?" I beamed, taking care not to reveal what "it" was.

And so, after his last day of work at our company, everyone planned to meet up for cocktails at the Cantina. I did not want to go. If it were anyone else I would have slithered my way out of it. But this was Young Guy, my best friend in the office. I had to go. I had to say goodbye.


The River and Rail Cantina is in Cranford, one town over from me. I got there so much earlier than anyone else that I had time to consider bailing out and claiming that "I didn't see anyone there." Instead, I texted G. She was on her way. Young Guy was trying to find a parking spot.

I paced outside the Cantina, nervously waiting for a familiar face. The first one I saw was June, our newest estimator. She arrived earliest despite getting changed before arriving at the bar. Our oldest employee Hebert was next, then Young Guy. The four of us stood and waited for the rest of our party.

Small pieces of the anxiety I was feeling were starting to shed. I began to warm up to what lay ahead - until Young Guy pulled out his phone. He called Office Girl. Of course he would have her number.

 

G had arrived as we were being seated. A long wooden table with about 12 chairs was presented to us. My impulse was to choose the seat at the back corner - until I saw G, June, and Young Guy claim that area. I surveyed my options. There was a big screen TV facing the center seat, tuned to the NFL Network. This will do. I thought. I can hide in plain sight. Sports are always a comfort in a crowd.

"Hi, Chris!" Office Girl exclaimed as she pulled out a chair next to June and across from Young Guy.

"Hillo." I smiled, quickly returning my attention to news of Christian McCaffrey's latest injury. Oh good. You saw me. I thought to myself, in the voice of Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

That was the only word I said to her all night. It was just about the only thing I said to anyone. 

I somehow endured two hours at the bar, broken up by prolonged trips to the men's room just to get away. I missed the waitress taking our orders. I ended up drinking water and whatever appetizers were passed around. Young Guy's manager Baldy had taken it upon himself to order several different apps for the table.

As time passed and I planned my getaway, I knew I had to say goodbye to Young Guy. He was surrounded by the only three women in the company - though Office Girl was the only one his age. 

After the Yankees scored a couple runs and the person next to me got up to leave, I decided to make a break for it. I'd had enough of watching them talk and drink and laugh. 

When it was my turn I shook his hand, gave him a bro hug, and wished him all the best. "Chris, man..." is all I remember him saying. I was too aware of my own words, and my proximity to Office Girl.


The following Monday was difficult. G, YG, and I had been the back office team for two years. It wasn't the same without our guy - even though a familiar face in Hebert had taken his spot.

When G and I were alone in our back office I shared a realization I'd had that Friday night at the bar. Pointing to my desk and then circling my finger all around me I said "While I've been sitting here, doing my work every day, everyone else around me became friends." She's the office manager, and my direct supervisor, and there was hardly ever a moment where I didn't have some work to do.

"It's hard when they're all so much younger than you." She said, before realizing that she's a decade older than me. "--Not that they're that much older than you, but.."

In that moment I lamented how many conversations I'd missed out on because I couldn't go up front whenever I felt like it. I didn't know Office Girl nearly as well as Young Guy (or anyone else) knew her.

And so I decided to do something about that. I decided to purchase a candy bar. 

"Hey, Chris." OG called to me. The only surefire way to get her attention is to stop at the vending machine two feet behind her. It never fails. "How are you?"

 "Uh..." I reached for my Take 5 bar - and my words. "i uhh..mmhm...ehh.."

"Yeah?... No..?" She gently tried to coax an answer out of me. I surveyed the room. K-dub was the only other person present, which was about the best I could hope for. I positioned myself at the desk across from her, standing in between the two of them.

"Friday was hard." I told her. Young Guy was the only co-worker that I considered a friend. I reiterated what I'd said to G, adding that I thought of the front office team as the "cool kids table" and that I don't "fit in" here.

None of this made sense to her. "Of course you fit in! You fit in with me." She was also baffled that I didn't consider her a friend. "Why would you say that?" I told Office Girl that I knew they all got together outside of work. She insisted that it was one time, and only with Young Guy. K-dub jumped in and supported her in his own K-dub way. "I don't hang out with these ni---z." He said.

From that moment I'd decided to stop avoiding her. Watching Young Guy move on made me feel lonely, and Office Girl's assurances made me feel less so. We talked a lot that day, and every day that week. I decided to test-drive her supposed friendship.

The front office team had started working out and eating healthy. K-dub had a health scare and their manager Dok is super focused on being fit (perhaps to impress his girlfriend.) Dok has actually thrown out junk food and made his team do crunches and leg lifts on the pull-up machine they have up there.

I don't work out, and I damn sure don't work out in front of other people. However I have lost 15+ pounds going for walks every day (also cutting back on junk food and not eating after 8pm) After hearing that Young Guy invited Office Girl to go to an escape room with her that "one time" I thought she might want to meet me at a nearby park that Sunday. That way we could get some fresh air and exercise, and I could say everything I never get to say to her at the office - because the phone always rings when I try to talk to her.

"Sure. I'm always down for a walk." She replied. I texted her a link to the park in Cranford, not far from the Cantina. I mentioned that she could bring her daughter if she wanted. She didn't reply.

A couple days later I stopped by her desk and asked her if she was still interested. She said she was. The text was still unread, but she checked it out while I was there and said it looked like a nice place. "I don't have my daughter this weekend." She added. Just the two of us... we can make it if we try...


I still wasn't sure if she was going to follow through so I asked one more time at the end of the week. Suddenly she was going out of state Saturday and didn't know if she'd be too tired upon her return Sunday. How was I going to know? I had to have some way of contacting her.

"Do you take your work phone with you when you're not on call?"

"I'm on call."

"You are? Should I check in with you on Sunday then?"

She didn't answer. She searched my desk for a pen, then scribbled on a post-it. "Here's my personal number."


That Friday was a million times better than the last. I'd never wanted to burn through a Saturday so bad.


As for that Sunday... the weather was perfect. The family went out for brunch, and I had seven hours to myself.


All to myself.


 

 ~