A Short Story: Workplace Romance

“Walter!”

I suddenly utter in attempt to get the attention of a cat slinking through the living room. The sudden shock of hearing my voice pulls me out of a fog where I’d been stewing and into consciousness of my surroundings.

Netflix is paused on the TV. It seems I began playing Silverspoon, that I’ve been watching the past week, forwarded through the final credits from where I left off and started a new episode but stopped somewhere in the first few frames.

My left hand is clutching my phone. I check the time and realize it’s nearly 10 PM. This is late for me as I begin waking up at 4:30 AM to make it to work by 6 AM throughout the week.

To my right is my Fender acoustic. Prior to my attempt at starting the show, I dabbled with a few bluesy riffs I’ve been trying to string together the past couple days. Admittedly, they’re generic but would probably sound decent should I ever put work into this whole songwriter thing.

I pick the guitar up again and pluck a few notes while glancing at the spot where the guitar had been laying on the couch. A few folded pieces of notebook paper rest to the side of impressions made by the guitar strings. I set down the guitar, pick up the notes and unfold the papers.

First, I read the first note from a few weeks prior. The words read the same as the first time, the second time and the forty-seventh time, yet I carefully digest each word as if it were brand new. Her tone is candid and the message endearing though snarky, just like our conversations. It is exactly what I hoped to read when I first watched her toss it onto my driver seat as I was shutting the car door before returning to work from a lunch break. The feelings contained in this note are what I wish still held value.

I toss the first note to the ottoman and move to the second. Unlike the first note, the outside of this note contains no doodles or cute, smart-ass remarks. The letter contains no greeting or signature and the body is a simple collection of cold, concise words expressing regret for the current state of affairs.

The girl who penned these two pieces is a coworker. In what seems to be most unlikely of circumstances I found someone I wholeheartedly adore. However, the mutually emerging feelings manifesting over the past few months seems to crash where the words end, three quarters down the page. Unutilized white space separated by the blue lines and empty white spaces that follow stir frustration, accrediting feelings of devastation slowly accelerating from repeatedly reading both messages back to back.

How the fuck… she can’t mean this?! Weren’t we past this? Maybe we’re not, after all…

It doesn’t make sense. Or maybe it does…

I toss the note atop the other lying on the ottoman. I grab my cigarettes and stroll to the back deck. I pull a smoke from the pack, add some fire and take my first drag before I begin pacing between the weathered floorboards.

“I can’t let this get to me,” I think to myself. Throughout the length of the next few cigarettes, I reflect on the various incidents leading up to this point in time.

***

Never did I picture my life taking such a severe turn that I would end up working production in a factory. A year prior in 2015, I had a home and a new family. Everything was slowly falling apart as I tried to figure a way to separate from a toxic relationship with the mother of my child. The coup de grâce of our tumultuous cohabitation culminated in simultaneous calls to the police, a fabricated story, my arrest and serious criminal charges. Just before the calls we placed, I asserted she, “will go to jail this time.” To my surprise: I was wrong. It’s a story for another day, to say the least.

I worked with a small IT company for a little less than 3 years but this too came to end later the same year after being “laid off” when tensions erupted from not being paid on time or accurately throughout the entirety of my employment. I immediately sought new employment, even landing an interview while in the elevator that same day. Despite applying everywhere possible and performing well in several interviews, I just couldn’t land a fucking job.

After a couple months of collecting shit money for unemployment and doing odd jobs or freelancing, my dad suggested I apply at the company where he works building custom commercial food vehicles. After an initial meeting for a marketing position (that didn’t exist in the company) I ultimately took a job as an electrician installing components and wiring trucks.

Everything about the environment differed drastically from anything I’ve done in the past. Though I had worked in several different Lenscrafters labs for the 5 ½ years I spent with Luxottica, this manufacturing role differed on various levels. The environment and social dynamics were far more blue-collar not to mention, the work.

Learning the position proved to be fairly simple despite having little direct experience. Socializing was almost immediately comfortable. As prefaced during a conversation with dad a few days prior to beginning my job, the people proved to be as unfiltered as described within the first few minutes of setting foot in the shop.

“You must be Steve’s son! I just love Steve! We’re gonna get married someday and I’ll be your stepmom. What do you think about that?” an enthusiastic woman around my age proclaims.

Another woman around my dad’s age chimes in, “Now, don’t go havin’ wet dreams about your new stepmom. But you can tell us if you do. It’s healthy or some shit to talk about these things.” I was caught off guard but managed to quickly fire back, “I’m looking forward to our awkward family dinners, momma. Don’t suppose you packed me a lunch for my first day on the job?” They respond with a laugh. I seem to pass the first round of new-guy-hazing with flying colors.

Conversing with most of the crew came naturally after a round of introductions. However, one person noticeably seemed to have little interest in meeting the “new guy,” keeping a safe distance from my workstation. We don’t make eye contact when passing each other yet, we seem to always catch eyes across the floor before quickly looking away.

This girl was included in the cast of characters provided by my father. “A few of the women are really good looking and a lot fun,” he said between sips of beer as we sat at his kitchen table. “They’re married, though, except the girl who’s a little younger than you. You two will probably really get along — she’s pretty smart and seems to listen to the same music as you. Plus, she’s cute. Of course, you may end up hating each other.”

By recalling descriptions for the people in my new environment, names and bios eventually gain faces and voices. Via process of elimination, I realize the girl beyond arm’s length is the new friend or potential enemy described by my dad.

From her exterior alone, she’s a stark contrast to the rest of the crew. Her hair appears professionally colored sea green as varying tones suggest a quality product were used by a knowledgeable stylist. Her figure is refined — she’s thin but fairly toned with ivory skin and overt dark brown eyes I’d later find gleam when we speak as her cheeks flush pink. Elegant curves surround her body set atop pair of legs I couldn’t imagine more seductive if I tried.

I remember our first few attempts at speaking to each other the first month of my job. It wasn’t until I overheard her conversing with others about the new dog she planned to adopt in the near future that I made a sincere attempt at communication.

This is my chance,” I thought, calculating an angle to assimilate into the conversation. Thankfully, it works and my approach is welcomed. She proceeds to show off some pictures saved on her phone of the potential new pet. Here, we begin our very first conversation, discussing the adoption process from a local animal shelter.

I later tell her about my dog, now cared for by my mom who has been living with me for the past several months. He’s a Pembroke Welsh Corgi so when she inquired about his name, I knew she was fishing to see if it was Ein like the dog from the Cowboy Bebop series.

During the next couple days, we work side by side in the same truck where we first delve into real conversation. As we converse and work, she has The Dead Weather playing from her iPod. Too, I learn she’s definitely a fan of Cowboy Bebop. By this point, I’m confident we won’t be foes.

My first impression of her being a “raver chick” proved to be wrong, and we discovered a lot of common ground between us. Some of the most intriguing commonalities between us existed in the form of contempt for things like most Apple products (old iPods aside), Harley fanatics, butt-rock and people with chronic victim complexes, among others.

After learning more details about each other, I realize I have to get to know her outside of work. I discover she attends school at the Indiana University campus by my house which is just over a mile from my favorite place to get a burger and a beer. Eventually, as we’re leaving work one day, I manage to ask her to join me without fumbling my words or awkwardly gesticulating. She’s immediately privy to the idea and agrees to come out some time.

It’s a couple weeks before we meet but she manages to make it one Tuesday when both burgers and beer are on special. There’s one empty seat at the end of the small bar and I invite her to sit while I stand adjacent to her stool. In our time together, we discuss all kinds of topics. I even fill her in on my legal situation, the very thing which brought me to that job in the first place. Over six hours pass and we realize it’s near midnight so we part ways for the evening.

A Saturday two weekends later is the next time we go out. We texted throughout the day and she tells me of her frustrations with killing Skagzilla in Borderlands 2. So I send her a tutorial — I edited a picture she discretely captured earlier in the week at work where she flipped me off and placed it such that it appeared as though she’s fingering the monster’s butt. She finds the picture amusing. Eventually we plan to meet for drinks in the late afternoon.

We meet at the same bar from the first time and took advantage of a couple loaded Bloody Mary specials. After finishing a couple drinks, we relocated to another place where we played pool, shared some Michigan craft beer from Greenbush and sang karaoke. Around one in the morning, we decided to call it a night and she drove us back to my car parked near the bar where we started the evening. Before I left the vehicle, we lean in for a hug and as we pull away, I stop. We hold for a moment, inches from each other’s face, she leans in and we begin to kiss.

“You’re cute,” she whispers during a brief pause. I say nothing and immediately go back for more, biting her lower lip, working my way from her chin to her neck then moving my way across her cheek before stopping at her ear. I tighten my grip on the hair I brushed away from her face and begin working my way back down her neck.

“Ok,” she pants, “I should go. I’ve had a bit to drink and I need to make good decisions.”

“Right,” I say. I open the door to get out but shift momentum, returning for another kiss. “Please be safe on your way home. Text me when you’re home, ok?” She agrees so I exit her vehicle and return to my own.

Yes! She likes me back.

Business continues as usual the next couple weeks. During this time, antics defining our work relationship develop. She’ll draw smiley faces on my things, write obscene messages throughout my workspace, tape my tools or work area, try to pinch one of my nipples and pulls my hair, among other shenanigans. I respond by doing much of the same (minus grabbing her boobs) and also place her things out of reach or attempt to steal her shoes off her feet.

Friday rolls around. I’m aware of her biology lab as well as the approximate time class concludes. Knowing where she parks, I enlist the help of a friend, wrap her car in cellophane and place a bag of candy beneath a section of fabric placed atop her windshield spray painted with the word “PAYBACK.” I wait in a nearby park and watch her approach the vehicle from a distance before she notices my handy work. I allow a couple minutes to pass before I finally approach her.

“The guy that did this has gotta be a major asshole,” I say through a smirk. “Bet this really sucks.”

“You fuck!” she yells through a smile. “I hate you so much right now. You really just gonna stand there?”

“Correct. I’m going to let you work up an appetite,” suggesting my plan in store.

“Oh, I’m already starving.”

“When you finish unwrapping your present, you’ll find something to bandage that problem. But I suggest we get real food.”

“Uh, sure. What do you wanna do?”

The plan was simply to feel out the situation and maybe discuss the interaction from a couple weeks prior. One thing leads to another and we found ourselves at a friend of mine’s house standing around a bonfire in the early morning hours some 10 hours later. We’ve been heavily engaged in our brand of flirting throughout the evening from pinching, sticking a finger in the others mouth during conversation and likes, but the cycle breaks and things shift after I wrap my arms around her from behind as we stand next to the fire.

After some time, we move inside the house. We picked up where left off from a couple weeks back after heading into the kitchen. Things become more heated in the living room until we were asked by a nearby friend to “get a room.” So we did.

When we got to our feet, I grab her hand and walk her toward the bedrooms. She closes the distance between us and I respond by picking her up and pressing her into wall. She answers by tightening her legs around my waist and rolling her hips up and down. I open the door to nearby room, lay her on the bed and pull off her pants, revealing a little pair of black panties and a set of legs my imagination clearly didn’t do justice. I waste no time and bring my face to her in inner thigh. From here, I kiss my way up her leg to her hips and stomach before slowly descending, all the while using a free hand to unbuckle my belt and slide off my jeans. After a couple shudders and some writhing, I lift my head and rear back. It wasn’t long before all our clothes made their way to the floor next to the bed.

We awoke in the early afternoon and accompanied the rest of the people from the house to breakfast where we were shit-talked about our behavior until one friend’s children joined our breakfast crew. We parted ways shortly thereafter and went about our days. In the evening, I received a lengthy text from her regarding the events from the night before.

I learned I was right — she likes me. However, another issue came to light. Since before we had met, she has harbored a deep interest for someone else. She says in love with this person.

I spend a few hours before responding. I knew she had some level of romantic interest elsewhere as she had once dropped the word “boyfriend” during a conversation before our first outside of work meeting.

My reply contains a rambling, though linear, collection of thoughts. I touch on the fact I had a feeling someone else existed in her world. I go on to say I adore her — perhaps the most important statement contained in my response. In the declaration following, I assert I could let her be… but I don’t want to. Per her request, I promise even though I’m “weird,” I won’t allow what has and will transpire to affect our work.

***

To a degree, I manage to keep this promise for the next month and a half. During this time, I quit drinking due to circumstances related to my legal woes but we occasionally meet up for a meal or to hang out at some bar.

Things remain stagnant until one Saturday night I head to her house a couple towns east from where I reside. This time, I drive as I now (in theory) won’t go jail if pulled over. We visit a couple locations eat, drink and enjoy each other’s company.

After returning to her house and stopping in the driveway, we say our goodbyes. Simultaneously, we lean across the center console for a hug. Slowly we separate, pausing a few inches from each other’s face. She moves in for kiss which I eagerly accept.

“I certainly have a way of complicating things, don’t I?” she whispers as she pulls away, eyes still closed from the kiss. We say goodnight again. She exits the car then enters her house.

So… just what the fuck is going on?

For the most part, the acceptance to remain distant, at least on a romantic level, had already ingrained into my mind. Thanks to this occurrence, my brain quickly took the notion back to the drawing board.

Now what? Do I stay away from her? I’ll talk to her tomorrow.

As I left some e-juice at her house, I used this as an excuse to make a visit the next day. After collecting my liquid nicotine, my thoughts dancing around my mind gush from my mouth. During our talk, she confirms she “really likes” me and agrees we should refrain from seeing each other.

For about a week, we mostly only talk at work but continue carrying out our usual, daily pranks against each other. After a long series of texts when the work week concludes, I call her, contradicting any sense of principal.

“We’re not doing so good at this whole not talking thing,” I say, jeering at our exchanges throughout the work week as well as the couple dozen texts sent between us.

“Well, I mean what was I supposed to do? I can’t go a few minutes without seeing your stupid face,” she teases.

After a little more banter, I suggest going for broke by terminating the previous agreement. Further, I propose getting together at some point during the weekend.

The following day, she sends a text after spending a day with her family at the beach, asking my plans for the evening. I indicate I know of a couple events happening in town and express her company would be “acceptable.” After several more exchanges, she heads to my house and we venture out for the night. We begin at same bar we usually frequent for a burger, caught the end a great outdoor performance then briefly popped into another bar before heading back to my house.

She’s tired and still a little buzzed. You can see it in her face and hear it in her voice.

“I’m so tired. I need to go bed,” she says, where a yawn soon follows.

“Please be careful on your way home. Don’t fall asleep or get pulled over. Sleeping in a holding cell is fucking awful,” I joke.

“I’ve totally fallen asleep at the wheel when I was really tired before,” she conveys through a sleepy tone.

Is she fishing for something? Yeah, she’s fishing. Don’t blow this.

“Then… why don’t you just stay?”

She looks at me and I study her a little more intently than usual. Though her highly animated expressions are watered down at this point, I see a mixture of inquiry and relief. I decide to press the issue.

“I promise I’ll be a perfect gentleman,” I articulate with a bit of inflection through a shit-eating grin.

She checks the locks the door to her vehicle before we head inside. I open the door to my room and she crawls across my king-sized bed that essentially is my entire room and lays on her side. I lay down, at first close to her and throw an arm across her side. She doesn’t cuddle any closer — interchange is nonexistent so I take the hint. I adjust my position to the opposite side of the bed, stretch out then fall asleep.

Come morning, I begin to wake up and lightly toss around to maintain comfort as she continues to sleep. She farts which I’m pretty sure is what wakes her up as she begins stirring while I try to keep from giggling. Time passes and we’re both facing each other when I begin to open my eyes to catch her doing the same.

We lay around and chat for a bit. Soon, gears shift and we begin playfully batting at each other before a full blown wrestling match breaks out. I know she doesn’t like her feet touched and she’s well aware I hate being tickled. We make several attempts at attacking each other’s weak points. She’s surprising skilled at deflecting my offense and counter attacking. It’s especially remarkable as she’s essentially an only child, meaning no experience from childhood scuffles with older siblings, and no prior involvement in any kind of self-defense.

Jesus — this is hot. Don’t think about her naked. Stop. Stop what you’re doing.

Eventually, the grappling match subsides though we remain in bed, reverting to conversation where plans to get coffee are made. I work my way close to her again then sway her to her stomach while suggesting a back massage before we leave. After she moves into position, I follow, straddling her legs just below her butt.

I begin massaging her shoulders, then work my fingers around her neck before moving outward again. Slowly, I make my way down her back, firmly pressing my fingers about the small of her back. I make a couple passes, eventually returning to the base of her neck. I trace fingers through her hair, now colored a red-orange, then around her ears, ultimately grasping her neck then sliding my hands to her shoulders. Her back arches and her butt presses into my groin. I maintain, slightly pressing myself into her, putting every ounce of effort into not getting hard.

“Ok!” she gasps. I quickly release my grip, roll off of her and hop to the floor.

Too much? Hope I didn’t just fuck this up.

“So… coffee?” I say sheepishly, tucking my hands into my pockets attempting to hide the fact blood was beginning to rush to my dick. She looks toward me and nods in approval. I walk around the narrow corridor surrounding the bed from the base to the side and turn towards her. She rises to her hands and knees, crawls halfway across the bed then propels herself directly in front of me, landing on her knees.

For a couple moments, we just look at each other. A flush of red is brushed across her face, accenting a charming grin. All of a sudden, she pops up and kisses me. This catches me off guard for a brief moment. I quickly process what happened and reciprocate — I lean forward, lift a knee to the bed, resting my leg adjacent to hers, place my hands on her waist then return the favor. I kiss her lips then the side of her face. I pull away for a moment to study her reaction.

“Yeah?” I query with a tone of excitement.

Her eyes fixate on mine. She nods as her grin widens, flushed cheeks lift and eyes slightly squint.

I hear my mom pacing about the house and the steps of a meaty Corgi following. “My mom is here,” I announce, in much the same a fashion a road sign indicates a final gas station before long stretch of highway. She seems unfazed. I share her sentiments. “Try to keep quiet.”

I shift over and close the door, quickly returning to her front and center. It’s near noon and my window is half open such that the sunlight illuminates our movements, beginning with the removal of her cut-up Misfits shirt then our remaining layers of clothing. As our bodies switch between various positions across the bed, every beautiful detail appears irradiated from the way she’d bite her lower as I looked at her from below to the inflection of curves of her eyebrow and shape of mouth as she moaned when I increased my tempo atop of her.

I finish with a mess. I collapse to my back for a partial minute to catch my breath. “Jesus Christ, Nick!” she proclaims, lifting her head to gaze upon a thick glaze covering her body from stomach to shoulder. I pull my head up and prop myself up to assess the damage.

It’s enough to warrant sacrificing an article of clothing. I open a drawer containing garments I no longer wear, retrieving an old Geek Squad uniform shirt. I use a sleeve to absorb some of the moisture on myself and toss it her. Smiling and still flushed, she grabs the shirt landing on top of her and cleans herself off. She hands back the shirt, now drenched, and I drop it on the side of a trash can to keep it off the carpet. Soon after, we get dressed then finally head downtown for coffee proposed earlier in the morning.

As we sip our coffee, we converse as usual, touching base on event that just transpired. “I hurt. Like, I’m sore,” she says with a smirk and a giggle.

“Ok…” comes from my mouth with a bit of inflection as I’m not sure what direction the conversation is heading. “Did I crush your guts? You’re holding your spleen — I don’t think you need it anyway.”

“I need my spleen!” she giggles. “Hope you’re proud of yourself. Does that make you feel you good?”

“Let me think,” I reply, followed by a brief pause. “Yeah, I’m fine with it,” I say, now with more confidence as I now see this is her weird way of complimenting me. Her smile widens and cheeks flush brighter just before she raises her cup for another drink.

After our drinks, we head back to my house. As we get out of the car, I walk her to her vehicle and say goodbye. We share an intimate kiss then pull away before heading our separate directions.

Everything seems relatively normal per our usual conversational procedures. We only send few texts but talk at work over the next couple of days when I suggest going for a cheeseburger later that Tuesday. She agrees to join after completing her after work ritual (a nap) and running a couple necessary errands.

Instead of meeting at our normal location, we go to a local faux Mexican chain because of margarita specials and the fact obscene amounts of chips and salsa may be consumed without anyone so much as batting an eye. It’s a fairly brief dinner so we soon head to the parking lot where we talk side by side next to her car. It’s not long before my perception of our circumstance drastically changes.

“So last night I told him about everything. And… I guess, well… we’re now in a relationship,” nervously she utters, twiddling her fingers. “He’s not mad. Well, he’s mad at himself for the situation.” She continues explaining the discussion from the night before, jumping to every point she wants to make. I follow along, trying to actively listen while taking stock of how every word feels more poignant than the last.

It registers but I can’t quite process what exactly happening much less, why. All I can think about is how this transpired a day after we reached what I thought was a good milestone. A storm of emotions start brewing in my mind. I feel hurt. I feel anxious. I keep stoic and formulate a response.

“I mean, I guess I’m not surprised,” I say, leading with an honest response. “I’m not mad,” I lie, “I’ve been in a similar situation in the past.” I proceed to explain a romance from my early 20s with a girl where a mutual attraction quickly developed, despite the fact she had a boyfriend, dragged out for a couple years then completely destructed not long after we finally entered a brief, exclusive relationship.

We continue to communicate our feelings as I rationalize this somewhat expected turn of events. “You ever been to family event where everyone brings their kids? Let’s say a boy brings a toy along but eventually grows tired of it, then moves along to something else. Another one of the children finds the toy and begins to play with it. The owner of the toy sees this and immediately realizes he needs that toy back… this is what’s happening here.”

“So… I’m the toy,” she says, gazing to the ground in front of her. “You might be right. It’s been forever and he’s never been willing to commit to me. I guess we’ll see how long this lasts before he gets tired of his toy.”

Seriously?! Just… don’t. Keep your mouth shut.

We hug then both enter our vehicles. On my drive home, I process the conversation, replaying each syllable and every gesture, digesting every detail trying to understand what the fuck just happened.

Throughout the night I continue thinking, somehow strangely arriving at a kind of peace. I figure I had come to terms and accepted the reality of the situation. The next day, work proceeds as if nothing happened until I overhear her conversing with a coworker a couple hours into the day — she decisively uses the phrase “my boyfriend.”

Boyfriend?

Thoughts and feelings from the night before flood every functioning area of my mind, probably also triggering dormant brain cells that survived years of hard partying. In actuality, the night before was completely surreal so the significance of her words were quietly tucked under a blanket of denial.

This… is really happening.

I want to pull her aside and expel the myriad of thoughts on my mind. But instead, I just shutdown. I activate some kind autopilot to finish the remainder of my work for the day. I don’t say a word to her. I can’t even look at her.

The next day feels like I stepped back in time to when I had just started. Interaction is nonexistent. Though I can’t look her in the eye, I take notice as she passes by. She’s not grinning. She’s not making her regular goofy noises as she walks the plant. She looks like I feel.

“I don’t know what the fuck is going on, but you two not talking is a little fucked up,” declares one of ladies who works on our line. “She’s upset. You two need to get over that shit. Talk to her!”

“It’s, uh, complicated,” I say before disengaging. This marks the beginning of being actively heckled by coworkers about our flirting. She’s been at the company for close to 3 years and I learn her demeanor has changed since I’ve been in the picture.

It’s not as if I wanted to simply disconnect but I figured it was better than the alternative. It was better than showing how hurt I felt in a way where I potentially couldn’t control what would inevitably gush from my mouth, as I tend to do. I knew I had to do something so I started organizing my thoughts in a notebook as I trained a new employee. Eventually, I scrapped my outline and wrote her a heartfelt note expressing both my indignation the fact I sincerely love her. I wrapped the paper around a Snickers bar, etched the word “TREATS” on the outside then placed it on her workbench as she watched just before I left for the day.

The next day which was the Friday before Memorial Day, she slowly began approaching me again. Her mischievous ways return, as does her smile and the dopey noises she makes while passing by. It was the end of lunch time this day when she tosses her first note into my car. Somehow, I overpower my impatience by waiting until I get home to read her message.

The note begins by expressing a sense of confusion about the current state of affairs. It goes on to congratulate me for being one of few people for which she truly cares. She doesn’t blame me for the way I feel, reveals she too feels hurt, stating how it is now painful to look at my “stupid face 80 times a day” which used to make her happy. It wraps up with her expressing how she misses me though it has only been a couple days since we spoke, concluding with how anxious she feels about handing over this note.

I text her a few hours after reading the message, asking the whereabouts of my egg, in reference to a remark written on the outside of the message. After a few exchanges, I tell her I miss her stupid face as well and ask if she would like to get together sometime over the weekend. She responds with, “I’d like that.” As her plans for the evening consisted of making German chocolate cake and drinking Riesling, I let her be. The next day, I asked about the status of cake which I learn changed to a yellow cake with chocolate icing. I also inquire as to her plans for later. Eventually, a cake-meeting was penciled into the schedule and I made way to her house early in the evening.

While enjoying the cake, we spend some time sitting on her bed, showing each other our favorite dumb videos on YouTube, reminiscing about the days when we first encountered each clip. A little over an hour passes before we decide to venture out and do something for evening. We sat down at a bar for some food but wrapped up the outing quickly, opting for something more low key. Ultimately, we rented Daddy’s Home from a Redbox and returned to her house.

Side by side one bed, we watched the entirety of the mediocre film. We eventually moved forward in tandem to the computer at the edge of her bed where the disc had been playing. She took to the keyboard but I fixated on her. A loose, tattered shirt hung off one shoulder draping over a pair of striped cloth shorts pronouncing her butt.

I maneuver my legs beneath her, positioning myself behind her. I run my hands up the small of her back to her shoulders then to the side of her neck. Her arch in her back accentuates as a moan escapes with her breath. I move closer, pressing my body to hers. I maneuver my face to the side of hers, she turns her head and soon initiates our first kiss for the night.

While behind her, I run my hands along her entire body, eventually removing the few bits of loose fitting clothing she had been wearing as well as my own. I remain behind her after we both completely disrobe. Being a new territory for us, though something my imagination had conjured in the past, I strive to meet expectations. The actualization, in some ways, improved the fantasy as I worked her off the foot of her bed, such that she supported herself from the floor for a brief time before we repositioned.

Our encounter ended slightly less dramatically compared to the previous occasion though enough to warrant some dramatic panting on my end. After getting dressed, she joined me with her vaporizer as I stepped outside for a cigarette. Soon after, we returned to her room and slept for the remainder of the night.

The next day, I spend time with my dad and other family members during a cookout at his house. Throughout the day, we exchange some texts and I eventually say I’d be willing to put up with more of her if she wasn’t sick of me. I suggest we check out a new bar that recently reopened after being closed for a couple decades, then grab some ice cream afterwards and watch or a movie or play old video games. She’s keen to the idea and comes to my house after a couple hours.

I had forgotten it was a Sunday, so the place I wanted to visit turned out to be closed. We went next door where she had a Red Stripe before we returned to my house. After a bowl of ice cream, I made popcorn and we went to my room, scanned Netflix then decided on a weird movie. We settled on an anime called Genius Party that ended up being a collection of strange, though decent, short story lines.

Lying face down on my bed, legs intertwined, we watched the first plot lines. Eventually, we drifted into something more intimate, ignoring at least one of the segments. Like conjoined hands on a lewd clock, we rotated in circles, bunching up the covers of the previously made bed. After some time, I sit up with my arm wrapped around her body then lay her on her back to finish.

“Holy fuck!” she exclaims, “You made it into my mouth!” She laughs then inspects her hair to if any rogue shots landed elsewhere. “That’s quite a shot. We should take you to play skee-ball.”

I laugh then proceed to grab myself and make various gun noises which seems to entertain her. After my performance concludes, I find something to clean up and shut down the computer. After sleeping for the night, we went for breakfast in the morning and finally part ways around noon.

***

During that weekend, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a long time. It seemed as though our connection blossomed into something more substantial. It felt like we were moving in a direction where we could truly grow into each other. Considering the state of our relationship from the previous week, it seemed too good to be true.

Turns out, I was right.

The next day at work marked the beginning for her time of the month. After the work day concludes, I follow her to her house to hang out for short time. I provide a brief back rub in attempt to relief some of her discomfort before I leave and she naps. We spend the remainder of the work week communicating in our weird manner as usual. Friday comes and I ask if I can abduct her later to go enjoy one of the shows that evening to which she responds “maybe.”

Ultimately, she declines. She offers to possibly come out the next day with yet another “maybe” as she was supposed to be starting the first phase of a large cover-up tattoo that afternoon. Somehow, this ended up moving back to later in the evening plus, the artist ended up simply sketching it in pen to test the parameters, so I ask her to get a hold of me when she finished. In the end, I didn’t hear from until late afternoon on Sunday and only a few short messages were sent between us.

Something felt off the entirety of the next week. We went for a burger on Tuesday but cut out fairly early. She followed me back to my house where I gave her some cranberry e-juice I picked up earlier that day. During our goodbye, I went in for a kiss to which she reciprocated. However, what followed was very unnerving.

“Nick. I don’t want to end up resenting you. I’m not over this,” she said with a smile though the delivery was incredibly decisive.

The message wasn’t threatening but the gravity felt intense. This was one of only a couple occasions where I couldn’t come up an intelligible reply. I simply stammered nonsense, filling in the blanks with “I know” and frequent apologies.

At the end of the week, she hurt her hand and left early that Friday to go to urgent care. Before she left, I asked if she wanted to go out or do something over the weekend. She agreed, making mention the tattoo process would finally begin on Saturday. Though we made a flimsy agreement, I hear nothing from her until I see her at work on Monday.

A pit develops in my stomach.

I know something is wrong. To make matters worse, we barely talk the next couple days.

You’re losing her.

I’m stressed. I know I’m being pushed away and the lack of communication sends me into a mental tailspin. Knowing I need to regain control of myself by at least re-establishing communication, I write her another note. For some reason, I don’t recall much of the note but I do remember explicitly saying I truly missed her as this new distance made me feel lonely.

Her response, the second note which was the catalyst for starting this whole story, is placed in my empty coffee thermos where it remains until I get home. After reading it, I’m completely devastated. Everything hurts, but most of all when she references her previous note, stating she missed me at that time because she felt she was losing a friend, not a lover. In her first note, she questioned whether or not dissolving the relationship she recently established would be a mistake. She ends the note by stating it was indeed a mistake.

I somewhat lose my shit after reading this. We remain friendly and converse over the next couple days, though not in our usual manner. I end up putting in my two week notice at work. Now knowing she’s being pulled away by what I know is her long standing love interest, I don’t want to look at her anymore. I join her one day during a break early in the week and ask her to clean all the smiley faces from my tools as I would be leaving the company soon.

About half a week passes and I come to my senses. I recant my notice to our plant manager as my only other option would be another shit factory job or serving at bar or and I’m in no mental position to deal with the public.

I had planned to not speak with her again. However, this made the work atmosphere incredibly uncomfortable, just as it had before. Though still not sure how I would handle our situation, not speaking and seeing her miserable only made me feel worse.

I approach her vehicle on our first break and witness her applying a cream to a portion of the new tattoo. I enter without invitation then take a seat followed by a deep breath.

“You look like shit.”

“What?” she laughs, albeit, confused.

We talk about the situation, though not in great detail. I tell her I thought not talking would make things better but reality proved it made me feel worse. Her main complaint was the fact I seemingly had a disinterest in being only friends. She inquired to my decision process, asking if it was because I would rather have her in my life a friend than not at all. I answered yes although my answer was not completely honest.

***

After a couple weeks, the friendliness dynamic in our relationship returned to normal. The flirting and mischief at work is constant. We resumed hanging out on weekends, now visiting just as much (if not more frequently) than ever before.

A little less than a month has passed since interpersonal matters settled between us. Recently, she quit the job where we met and now works various positions at a local ale house. This time has given me a chance to reflect on everything, truly address my feelings and ponder how I’ll move forward. Yet, I’m still deeply conflicted by the situation.

I feel like I’m watching The Matrix but instead of taking the red pill and plummeting into the rabbit hole, Thomas Anderson bitches out by taking the blue pill. As it turns out, I’m watching the extended version of the entire trilogy bootlegged by some guy named Keith who filmed the whole thing at a decaying theater with a $100 digital camera. The movies are spread across multiple files with a shit naming and numbering convention so everything plays out of order. He answers his phone on a three occasions to assure a buddy he’s “on his way” with a 20 sack of weed. The camera goes lax during several of many unimportant scenes, such as Keanu baking a casserole for first time and another where he sits next to a guy wearing headphones on the subway who raps aloud the entire duration of the ride.

What bothers me the most is the perception of romance and real love she sees with the person she now calls her boyfriend. Since before her and I met and developed any kind of relationship, she grew to love him throughout one another’s relationships over time. Over the past 8 months or so, she had been waiting for him to “get his shit together” so they could finally be a couple but he would never commit. I only know part of the story — he had a girlfriend for a length of time but things fell apart some time ago and for whatever reason, he still wouldn’t take the plunge despite knowing she had been patiently waiting for a turn to be with him.

She had never been the kind of person to spend a significant portion of her time on her phone, unless we were in the process of sharing Internet gold from Imgur, an old conversation thread in my archive of texts or something from YouTube. Though we may spend a sizable amount of time catching Pokémon when we hang out, she’s now responding to his constant texts.

This means the relationship she waited for so long to come to fruition conclusively roots in something highly volatile — jealously. Having been on each side of this spectrum in the past in addition to watching others walk the same path, I see what lies beyond the horizon. This is castle built on sand and she will probably get hurt.

As I’m in the picture, though not romantically, I’m a threat. To control the situation, he will work his best to ensure he dominates her interests. Considering my stake in the circumstance, this means I have three options moving forward:

I fight.

I tread water.

I flee.

Option one has “nope” written all over. Option two works but means that I contradict some deep seeded principal issues I hold for myself while also prolonging what I believe to be the inevitable. Option three means I lose someone I not only love but profoundly hold dear as a friend.

I think I need all three in some order but the mechanics to accomplish this feat are unclear. What I want is to do none at all which won’t work. With that said, I need to make a choice.

So option three it is.

As much as I hate it, I know myself too well. I can’t be her friend while pulling the wool over my eyes. I can’t pretend I’m not jealous myself.

By exiting now, she has a shot and she deserves a chance even though it goes against everything I want. I can’t exist as a standby. I won’t live as a backup. Though I’m certain we garnered each other’s interests from a sincere place, I can’t be that person playing that string when opportunity strikes and creating turmoil for a brief sense of satisfaction while I wait for it to crumble. Further, I won’t maintain an open door policy like she did for him.

It’s funny in the sense that I didn’t see this as something to help me say goodbye when I started writing. It’s ironic that she always liked my stories. And now she’s one herself.

(There’s a followup to the story you can read here.)

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