NO TIME FOR LOVE
A quick glance at the clock on the wall said I had time to grab a cup of coffee before heading to my desk. A quick cup, of course, and I’d take it to my desk instead of hanging around the break room because that clock said it was time to get started.
“Hi,” I said vaguely to the knot of people talking about something. As usual. I’d always wondered how they found the time to talk and still get their work done. But they did. I glanced at the clock again. No time to waste because I was a hard-working employee who didn’t spend much time in the break room. And I wanted my bosses to notice that fact about me.
Then I stopped stock still because everyone was staring at me and waiting for me to say something and I realized that while I’d been thinking about time and work someone had asked a question and I’d been so focused on the clock that I hadn’t heard.
I turned red. “What did you say? I’m sorry, I –“ and then I just kind of stopped as they started laughing because I’d done it again. Become so focused on work that everything else faded away. It was a familiar joke in the office, one I actually didn’t mind even though I blushed every time it happened. Like now.
“We were wondering what you think of the new guy.”
“Do we have a new guy?”
More laughter. “Yes we do and you should see him, Shelley.” The speaker groaned. “He’s a triple threat. Gorgeous. Nice. And single.” She groaned again but with a grin because she was happily married. “And so are you. Single, that is. A fact I mention now just in case you are interested.” They stared at me, all those happily married people, expecting a reaction.
I made an indistinguishable sound and, since everyone else had their coffee by then, I grabbed a cup and poured some for myself, adding a carefully measured dollop of cream and a packet of artificial sweetener because too much sugar isn’t good for anyone. “I haven’t noticed him.” And then I turned to head for my desk.
And stopped because someone was in the way. A somewhat largish male with an easy smile and a suit that probably cost more than I made in a month and truly impressive shoulders, not to mention sandy hair and eyes somewhere between blue and green.
“Hello.” A baritone voice said this had to be the new guy because he had a gorgeous body and his voice was friendly and the lack of a ring on his hand said he was probably single and why had I noticed that fact? I didn’t normally.
Because my co-worker mentioned it, I decided, and not for any other reason because, though Dalrymple didn’t have an actual policy regarding employee relationships, it was well known that such relationships could make life at work complicated so I was determined never to be attracted to anyone in the office. No relationship with another employee for me. So no noticing whether he had a wedding ring or not.
Except I had noticed, along with being knocked breathless and unable to stop staring into those not-quite-blue and not-quite-green eyes while also being unable to say a single word. And I didn’t even know the guy.
So I sucked a lot of air, stared at my coffee and pretended I was making sure it didn’t spill, and then I mumbled something intelligible and steered around him. Avoid complications, I told myself. Forget the new guy. Ignore that he’s a hunk. Get to work.
I tried to steer around him, but it didn’t work. There wasn’t space, mostly because one of my married co-workers who thought everyone should enjoy marital bliss, had positioned herself so I was trapped between the coffee counter and the new man in the office.
So I did the only thing I could think of. I looked up into those intriguing eyes and said brightly, “Hi.” Intending to ask him to move when I was able to say more than a single word. Like a full sentence. Or at least a rational phrase. Anything more than one word.
He replied, “Hi. I’m Dan.” Then, still smiling, he added, “I’m the new guy.” Then, examining my face and realizing I didn’t look happy, he said tentatively, “Am I in your way?” and stepped aside so I could leave.
I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stand there forever staring into that oh-so-masculine, friendly face. But in the mini-second available before having to either continue the conversation or go to my desk, I reminded myself of my vow about good sense regarding employee relationships, not to mention that at the moment I was still unable to say more than a single word. So best to leave.
“Thanks,” I croaked and managed what I was sure was a pathetic smile and went straight to my desk, being careful not to spill a drop of coffee and feeling his eyes on me the whole time. When I arrived, I slowly pulled out my chair, carefully set my coffee on the trivet I’d bought just for that purpose, and after seating myself and turning on my computer in the most professional manner possible, dared a peek back to the break room. I could see the coffee counter from my desk so I should see the new guy. Dan. His name was Dan.
He was gone. My insides deflated and I wanted to curl into a ball.
So what was wrong with me? Never in my entire life had any guy had such an effect on me in such a short time. Which meant I’d best never encounter him again and if by chance I couldn’t avoid an encounter, I should scurry away as fast as possible. Common sense said that was a good plan.
Except it turned out that he was part of my new group so I couldn’t avoid him. The group I’d not known existed because it hadn’t until then and it wasn’t ‘my group’ as in a group that belonged to me but was, instead, my group because I was a part of it.
My immediate boss came by and, after the usual requisite chit-chat, specifically instructed me to head for one of the smaller meeting rooms to become part of a group to be educated in ‘group dynamics.’ Whatever that was.
When I arrived, I discovered that the new guy – Dan — was in charge of the group and that was why he was there. He’d been brought in from another city because he was good at getting people to work together, a talent I don’t have and neither did anyone else in the newly created group.
Looking around, I realized we were the company loners and that must have been why we were singled out. We were a bunch of individualists. Until that moment, I’d thought of that as a good thing. But, as Dan explained in his comfortable, easy-going way with that smile that was as wide as the Mississippi River, sometimes people need to work together even if they are great as individualists and so it was a skill that Dalrymple thought we should learn. And he was there to teach us.
The first thing he asked of us was to divide ourselves into smaller breakout groups tasked with coming up with a solution to ‘imagination hesitation.’ We looked at each other with blank expressions until I screwed up my courage and timidly asked, “Could you explain the meaning of that phrase, please?” Glad that I was now able to speak more than one word when in his presence.
The smile that had blasted me that morning at the coffee counter got wider. Forget the Mississippi River, this time it was as wide as the Atlantic Ocean. “Nope. I won’t explain.” As our hearts sank and, along with our hearts, our collective hopes for a successful and perhaps short lesson on group dynamics, he added, “That’s part of the process. You must figure it out.”
A while later, while huddled over a table in our breakout room, we agreed that he was absolutely callus behind that beautiful smile. But since we all wanted to keep our jobs and hopefully advance at some unspecified date in the future, we set to work.
We tried. We really did try.
“What’s imagination hesitation?” We all agreed it was a mouthful.
“Don’t know. Don’t have a clue.” We shook our heads mournfully.
“We have to come up with something.” Blank looks met that statement.
“What if our something is the wrong something?” The mere idea caused panic.
Then something happened. A sniff was heard in the room. A very loud sniff and it came from me because I’d decided I’d had enough of this ridiculous exercise in whatever-it-was-called. No more! “Well, if he’s not going to give us any help – not even a hint – not even tell us what we’re supposed to do — then he’ll just have to make do with whatever we come up with and if we’re wrong, then it’ll be his fault and maybe he’ll be more careful in the future.” Because, as we all agreed as we sat around that table and stared at each other and wished we were anyplace except there, he clearly didn’t know how to do his job and Dalrymple should have known better than to bring him in.
Forget that he was gorgeous. He didn’t know how to do his job. So we spent the better part of an hour having fun with that ridiculous phrase he’d given us.
Turned out the whole point of the exercise was for us to work together to come with something and it didn’t matter what we ended up with or what we thought ‘imagination hesitation’ was as long as we worked together to figure it out. Which we had done in the course of having fun and we’d done it very nicely.
He beamed. “You guys are good. Excellent. And it only took one session You’re figuring how to work together and I believe you’ve learned that being part of a team isn’t so bad after all.” We sullenly agreed that it hadn’t been too awful though we all spent a lot of time later trying to come up with criticisms of the whole idea because we were, after all, loners and liked it that way. We failed to come up with a single thing to pick apart about the session even though we tried pretty hard.
After that breakout session came the one-on-one sessions. A meeting with each of us, one at a time. For evaluations. To learn the score we’d each earned, though when Dan and I sat across the table from each other, he didn’t mention scores or winners or losers. Instead he said, “Tell me what happened in there. How you came up with what you did. I’m intrigued.” He looked like he truly was interested but that was probably an act and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. And away from those blue-green eyes that were sucking me in big-time because if I stayed too long, I’d come to believe that he cared. Those eyes were just too much. Too gorgeous. Too friendly.
But even as I wanted to leave, I didn’t want that intimate one-on-one meeting to end because it was the kind of torture I’d gladly repeat on a daily basis for the rest of my life because being close to him did things to my body and mind and imagination that were both horrible and wonderful as I tried my best to take in what he was saying. And failed completely and didn’t know whether to be glad or disappointed when he ushered me out with that blinding smile that turned me to mush so he could have a similar conference with another of us independent thinkers.
I returned to my desk and spent the remainder of the day in a daze trying to figure out just what had happened and I was so deep in thought that I didn’t even notice when it was time to quit. So I was late leaving. I slouched through the door long after quitting time muttering things that weren’t very nice if anyone had heard them clearly because, though I do work hard, I don’t overwork.
“Hey.” I hoped he hadn’t heard as I looked into those maybe-blue and maybe-green eyes and into the same dazzling smile that had lit up the office earlier. “You’re Shelley, right?” I nodded and put up my guard. This man was too good-looking and smiled too broadly to be trusted with anything, especially not with that traitorous part of me that was so attracted to him.
Innocently he said, “You’re leaving late.” I nodded again and raised my guard a bit higher. “Does the fact that you are staying late mean you’re not in a hurry?”
I turned that question over and over in my mind in search of an ulterior motive but couldn’t find one, so I finally answered. “Yep. No hurry.” Which was true. There’s no rush to an empty apartment.
“Then I’m wondering if you can help me out.” How and why could this man who was seemingly perfect in every possible way need my help? If he had a problem, all he’d have to do was stand in the middle of a freeway and let that smile loose and everyone within a mile radius would come running.
But he’d asked and I was raised to be polite so I had to respond. I did so cautiously by asking my own question. “What kind of help?”
“I’m new here and stuck in a hotel room. I don’t even have a car. And I don’t know where to eat and I’m famished.” He kind of shrugged and that gesture made him a little more human. As if he was no longer quite the totally perfect male. Of course he was still close to perfection but close is different. I could talk with someone who was only close to perfection instead of actually being perfect. “Know any place?” He wanted to eat. He was hungry. I could relate to that because my own stomach was rumbling. “Somewhere within walking distance?”
I did know some restaurants because sometimes I went out to lunch or if I was in the mood, grabbed dinner before heading home. “There are several.”
“Where would you recommend?” Then, without smiling at all and with a twist of his lips that said he felt kind of foolish for asking, he added, “I have an idea. A suggestion. What say you come up with a place and I treat you to dinner?”
That slight movement of his body, a hesitation in a man who was the most put-together person I’d ever met was all that happened, but it somehow made him even more human. Not down to my level, of course, but closer than before. Normal enough to have dinner with. Still, I could hardly believe myself when I said my next words. “There’s a nice Chinese place a block away and, yes, I’d like dinner.”
During dinner, I learned something about Dan. That first smile I’d seen, the mega-watt one, was for show. His second smile, the one that came from across the table was his real smile and it was so much better. Smaller, not so flashy, the smile of a friend and intimate enough that my insides turned to mush as I managed to ask, because his demeanor and the lovely meal and conversation that went with it had emboldened me, “Do you intentionally come across like you did today?”
He knew exactly what I was talking about which meant that earlier smile was intentional and most likely practiced! “Yes because I don’t have much time to accomplish what I’ve been brought to do so it helps to go in with everything I’ve got.” He winced. “Why? Do I come across as over the top?”
I almost choked on my egg roll and couldn’t reply but he got the message as tears of laughter rolled down my cheeks. He sighed. “Okay. I’ll try to tame it down a bit but don’t be surprised if I fail because it was part of the training.” His eyes rolled. “And I’ve had a lot of tranining on how to do what I do.”
We stayed late, talking and just generally relaxing after a long day’s work and it was easier than I’d have thought now that I knew he was human after all. I learned about his two sisters who were married and disgusted with him because he was single and he learned that I’m an only child who grew up with a nice mother who worked long, hard hours without making much money.
“So you’re determined to give both you and your mother a comfortable life.” I nodded because even when he wasn’t working with groups there was something about him that invited the same confidence that had got us nerds working together earlier that day, a something that I was sure added to his success.
“I’ve never had to worry about money so it’s never been important to me. I’m fortunate in that way.” A simple statement few people would dare to make and one I suspected he’d never made before and my breath stopped as I realized the extent of trust he’d just given me. Beyond our professional relationship. Beyond Dalrymple. It was a personal thing and I held it in my heart and treasured it.
We looked at each other for a long time without speaking. Adjusting, learning, truly seeing each other for the first time and something happened to me during those moments. I didn’t know what it was except that I knew that the next day at work I’d see Dan differently and the effect he had on me physically would only add to whatever that new and very special something was.
Did he feel it too? Silly of me to think so. Doubly silly of me to hope he did.
But the next day, after another day of work and another session of group whatever-he-called-it that was easier because I now knew him better, when it was time to head home, he appeared as if by magic beside my desk. “Busy this evening?”
“Huh?” I’d been locking my desk drawers and hadn’t noticed him.
“You said there are several restaurants nearby. I’ve only tried one so far. What say we try a different one today?” Then, in a lower voice that wasn’t at all like that of the confident professional ably creating a cohesive group out of a bunch of individualist nerds, his voice was now exactly like anyone who was unsure of themselves as he added, “And while we dine, we can get to know one another better.” He cleared his throat. “If you’re interested.”
He looked positively uncertain and that look sealed the deal for me. I think it also sealed both my future and his. At least my reaction to that scalding look sealed our fate. Because what I said while looking straight into those blue-green eyes was, “Sure.” Followed by, “Let’s go.”
There are a lot of restaurants within walking distance of Dalrymple. We checked out each and every one of them but, before we tested the last one, we realized that we were an item. A couple. A reason for people to gather around the coffeemaker in the break room and gossip.
The employees at Dalrymple love to gossip. Each and every one of them.
“We knew it.” My married co-workers positively gleamed when I showed up for my usual morning cup of coffee around the time Dan and I had gone through most of the near-by restaurants. I looked cautiously at their knowing faces as they continued smugly, “We just knew you two were right for each other.”
Someone waved a coffee cup and spilled coffee and spoke while wiping the table clean. “I deserve the credit. I got them together. It was my hard work that threw them into each other’s arms that first day.”
The speaker was my co-worker who’d made sure I couldn’t avoid Dan that first day by blocking my way and she now tossed the paper towel in the trash and examined the clean table top with satisfaction. She waved her hands, careful this time not to spill anything. “But no thanks are necessary. Just name your first kid after me.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I stuck my nose in the air and tried to go around her while pretending I had no intention of engaging with their gossip. I failed. She blocked me just as she’d done once before.
“Won’t work, Shelley. We recognize love when we see it.” Everyone laughed, as usual, and I turned red as a beet. “Just don’t forget to invite every one of us to the wedding.”
“After all, you wouldn’t have met if not for us.” They gave me a bunch of hard looks that said they meant every word they were saying.
At which point Dan showed up for his own morning cup of coffee. Looked at me, then at the others scattered throughout the room. And instantly knew what was going on because he’s that kind of person. It’s why he does what he does and is so good at it. Because he’s intuitive and quick to read a room.
He didn’t say anything. Instead, he simply filled his cup with coffee and came close and hooked his free arm through my free arm and led us from the room slowly enough that we didn’t spill a single drop and fast enough to get us out of there before anyone could say another word.
He had, indeed, heard the conversation. When we were in the main office that was empty because everyone was still in the break room, he steered us around a corner and put his cup down on a nearby desk and said, “That’s a good idea. What say we follow her suggestion?”
“What are you talking about? What suggestion?” I wished I wasn’t blushing but wishing didn’t make it go away.
“A name has been put forth for our first-born child. We should give it some thought. Save us some name games when the day comes.”
“What first-born child?”
“The one that’ll come after we’ve been married for a while.” He smirked. He actually smirked. “That first-born child.”
I put down my own coffee very carefully because I didn’t want to spill anything on Dalrymple’s expensive office furniture and thought for approximately a half-second. “Okay. You’re right. It’ll save time and effort to already have a name available.” I took a deep breath. “When we have that first-born child. After we are married.”
And that was what we did though when the time came we named her after my mother and my co-worker wasn’t insulted after all. Instead, she thought it was a lovely thing to do.