Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Staying Late: Part One

It was 5 o'clock and most people were shuffling out of the office. I was sitting in my cubicle, watching them all with envy.

It's not that I normally cared too much about staying late. Pete and I only really did this four times a year, but the entire vibe at work had shifted since the higher ups had begun intervening. I didn't enjoy work as much as I used to and even more recently, Pete had been acting really strange. I decided that I couldn't take this tension anymore and I was going to try to find a way to confront him about it tonight without coming off as accusatory.

I hung around at my desk for a little while before going to meet Pete in his office. We'd probably only have to stay a couple hours to get the reports together, but it meant we got to order in dinner so I was already fantasizing about what I would eat.

When I got to Pete's office, he was staring out the window with his hands in his pockets. His jaw was clenched. I took a big gulp before saying, “Hey, Pete.”

Pete turned around. "Oh, hey, Caroline," he said as he looked down at his desk and began rubbing his chin. “You ready to get these things knocked out?”

I slowly nodded. “I guess so,” I cautiously said before taking a seat in front of his desk. “I have my numbers.”

“Okay, cool.”

Pete and I began working in silence for a bit, but after a few minutes, it actually seemed like Pete was lightening up. He started humming some tune and joking around like he used to. I didn’t want to spoil his mood, but I thought this was a good opportunity to bring up his moodiness.

“It’s nice to see you in a lighter mood,” I said before instantly regretting it. Did I just make things really awkward?

“Huh?” Pete asked as he looked up at me. “Oh,” he began before I even had a chance to respond. “Yeah, um, listen… I’m really sorry I’ve been so distracted and to myself lately. Things are just a little crazy right now.”

“Is everything okay?” I asked. Now I was concerned. I had thought Pete was keeping something about work to himself, but could it be something more personal? And who knows the severity of it?

“Yeah, it’s nothing,” he began with a sigh. “I should know more soon. It’s just been stressful.”

“Oh,” I responded. “Want to talk about it?”

Pete looked up at me and shot me a devious smile. “You’ll be the first person I talk to when I know more.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. What was that supposed to mean?

We continued working and things felt practically normal. I was glad I had brought it up. Before I knew it, I felt my stomach growl and when I looked down at my watch, I noticed it was almost 7. “I’ve really lost track of time,” I said as I looked over at Pete, who was staring at something on his computer. I noticed his eyes quickly look down towards the bottom of the screen where the clock was.

“Oh, shit,” he replied. “You want to order dinner?”

“Yes, please,” I said as I placed my laptop on his desk and went to pull out my phone. “Where should we order from?”

He drummed the desk for a few seconds before saying, “let’s get poke.”

While poke wasn’t my favorite, I was so hungry that it actually sounded good. “Okay, perfect.” I got Pete’s order and called us in two bowls.

“They don’t have a delivery person right now,” I told Pete while still on the phone. “I don’t mind picking it up if you’re okay with me stepping out for a few minutes.”

Pete nodded so I completed the order and hung up.

I began organizing my papers and making a mental list of everything we still needed to wrap up before we went home. It wasn’t much, but I wasn’t about to rush through it on an empty stomach. “I’m going to run to the bathroom and then head out. Do you have the credit card?”

Pete pulled the corporate card out of his drawer and handed it to me before I picked up my bag and began walking out of his office. “Okay, see you in a bit.”

I walked down the hall to the bathroom. It was always so weird to be in the office when nobody else was there and the hallways were dark.

After I finished in the bathroom, I walked back towards the front of the office to go down the elevators to pick up dinner. I casually glanced back at Pete’s office and saw him pacing. He was on his cell phone and had his head down.

“Oh, no,” I thought to myself. Pete had just started seeming happier. I didn’t want him to be in a bad mood again so soon. I could deal with the awkwardness, but I didn’t like him being so down. Isn’t it the worst when you have a friend who’s going through something and you can’t help?

I continued on my way and picked up the food. I was riding back up the elevator within 15 minutes and felt myself getting anxious over what I would be walking into.

When I got back, I planned on acting like I hadn’t seen Pete on the phone. If he wanted to tell me what was going on, he would. Maybe it wasn’t anything anyway.

As I walked through his office door, I realized that there was no way I could act natural. He had a small bottle of Jack Daniels, opened, on his desk and he was casually sitting in his chair.

“Caroline!” He greeted. “You’re back!”

“Yeah,” I slowly responded as I placed the food down. “What’s going on?”

“Have a shot,” he instructed.

What had I just walked into?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Talking to Anna and Continuous Rumors

“My arms are getting too tired,” Anna stated as she let her hands drop to her side in a dramatic fashion.

I took a bite of my apple as I shrugged. “It does take some arm stamina,” I replied. I was sitting on a stool in my little kitchen as I talked to Anna via webcam. She had asked me to teach her how I do my French braid, but I now had the feeling that she’d be too impatient to try it.

“I have no arm strength ever since I stopped going to CrossFit,” she said as she stood up and opened her refrigerator door. “I know I should be in like, full wedding diet mode, but I’m so busy with the planning and everything else that I barely have time to work out, never mind also prepping healthy food for the week!”

“There’s always an excuse,” I replied before taking another bite of my apple. At this point, it had been a couple weeks since I had the talk with Tom and while I hadn’t brought it up to him again, I felt like there was only so much time that we had left. Neither of us vocalized it, but I think we were both pulling away a little bit. I mean, how could I continue to give so much time to a guy who couldn’t commit to me? He said a few sweet things that night, but the more I went over and over it in my mind, the more I realized that he was simply making excuses. He didn’t want to be my boyfriend and that probably wasn’t going to change.

So, even after Anna heated up some pasta she found in her fridge and began eating it, I felt satisfied with my apple. Since I needed to distract myself, I had been eating really healthy and amping up my workouts. I was definitely getting more toned and felt like I had a lot more energy. If I was going to be getting back in the game, I should at least look good when I did it, right?

I had told Anna all about the Tom debacle and of course, she advised me to immediately drop him. “You want something serious, right? So, don’t put up with his garbage.”

“I mean, I want something serious eventually, but right now, I’m so preoccupied with work that maybe this situation is okay.”

“Caroline, listen,” Anna began as she took a deep breath. “I’m just going to give it to you straight. If he doesn’t want something serious now, he’s not going to suddenly change his mind.”

I looked down and nodded. I knew it was true, but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. “Well, for now, I’m not going to think about it.”

“Girl,” Anna responded with a much lighter tone to her voice. “I think you should just enjoy the man for what he is and date around in the meantime. The way I see it, you have permission to do whatever you want without feeling any guilt. Maybe you should even jump on that hot boss of yours. Then, tell me all about it, obviously.”

I laughed at Anna. She had told me a few times that she missed her ‘slutty’ days before she met her fiancé. I found it really ironic that she wanted to live vicariously through me, while I would love to meet ‘the one’ already and fall madly in love rather than date around.

“I’ll definitely keep your suggestion in mind and believe me, I’ll report on any fun sex having I engage in. But I doubt it’s going to happen with Pete. If it was going to happen, it would’ve happened a long time ago.”

“Okay, fine,” Anna said as she sat up with her empty plate. When I saw her grab an ice cream cone from the freezer, my mouth began to water.

“Well,” I began. “I’ll let you get to your ice cream. I want to get some shut eye anyway.”

“Okie dokie,” she responded as she began peeling the wrapper off. “Don't be a stranger. We need a video chat at least once a week.”

I agreed before blowing a kiss at Anna and closing my laptop.

The next day, I was up early to do a quick work out at home and grab a smoothie for breakfast before heading to the office. Upon walking in, I saw Peggy sitting at the front desk with a gloomier than normal look on her face.

“Hey, girl,” I greeted as I lifted up my sunglasses. “What’s the matter?”

“Hey,” she responded in a tone that matched her facial expression. “I don’t know. There are just some rumors circulating this morning already.”

I could feel myself getting a headache and I wasn’t even at my desk yet. “What kinds of rumors?”

“You know, the usual stuff,” Peggy replied as she waved her hand and leaned back in her chair. “There are going to be more layoffs. The company is doing terrible. Some people might get relocated.”

I furrowed my eyebrows. People had been laid off and the rumors continued to fly around this gossipy office, but I hadn’t heard of people getting relocated. Why would they?

“Well, hopefully they’re just rumors,” I responded as I attempted to comfort Peggy with a smile. Mr. Larson seemed to really enjoy her bubbly presence, at least the facade she displayed when he was around, so I was sure her position was safe.

Peggy shrugged and I walked back towards my cubicle. I didn’t see Pete that morning. Lately, he remained isolated in his office and we really weren’t talking. It didn’t make me feel better about the rumors. Were there going to be lay offs? And if Pete were avoiding me, would I be a casualty?

That night, Pete and I were supposed to stay late and work on a quarterly report. Maybe this would be my opportunity to get some answers.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Crashing Waves

“Not hungry?” Tom asked as I pushed some arugula across my plate. We were grabbing dinner at a small, tapas restaurant around the corner from my office. The truth was I still had a lot on my mind about Tom.

I was practically a woman obsessed. Every morning, I checked Tom’s online activity. I hated it. I hated that I went from feeling so secure about how things were going to me being intrusive and jealous. I was especially frustrated because once I really reflected on how I felt, I kept coming back to the same conclusion; I had no right to feel hurt, betrayed, or angry, but for some reason, I just felt duped for some reason. I couldn’t really put my finger on it. I also realized that it didn’t really matter to me if he was seeing other girls. I was more hurt that it seemed like he was being extremely active in his search.

So far, I had been quiet and kind of passive aggressive. This was also something I hated. I wanted to be direct, but I was still too confused to even begin to consider how to articulate my thoughts.

“Eh, I had a big lunch,” I claimed as I scooped some arugula, tomato, and goat cheese onto my fork and took a bite.

“Long day at work?” Tom asked.

If the last thing in the world I wanted to address was my current state with Tom, the second to last thing was work. Pete had continued to act weird all week and it caused me distress for two reasons; what was going on with Pete and what was going on with the company?

“Always,” I replied with a smile. “What about you?”

Luckily, Tom took that as an opportunity to vent a little bit about work. As dinner went on, I got a little bit more comfortable chatting and it felt like a normal night again.

Afterwards, we went for a walk and ended up near the beach. It was a nice night so I suggested that we take a seat on a bench overlooking the water.

“This is comfortable,” Tom replied with a sigh as he reached his arm around me.

“Yeah,” I replied as I brushed a piece of hair behind my ear. I quietly took a deep breath. Now was my chance. If I didn’t start a discussion now, I knew I would never bring it up and things would just continue to get worse and worse.

“So, Tom, I wanted to talk to you about something,” I blurted out before I could tell myself not to.

“Oh?” Tom asked. He didn’t sound caught off guard or concerned at all, which made me feel a little better.

“Yeah, nothing serious,” I began. “But I’ve been having a really great time with you and I feel like everything is going well. San Diego was really fun, too.”

“But…” Tom began with a cautious smile. I couldn’t help but smile back at him.

“Well, I guess I’m just curious,” I said as I could feel my heartbeat increase. “You know, where are things going? Or where you want things to go?”

Tom looked straight towards the water and was quiet for a minute. As he contemplated my question, my mind began to race to all the different responses I imagined he could provide. While he was realistically quiet for five seconds, it felt like an hour. I began to bite my lip right before he began to speak.

“I like you a lot, Caroline,” he finally replied. I didn’t like the start already, but he began to bring his comment around. “I can see a real future with you. You’re sweet. You’re funny. You’re cute.”

Tom took another pause. “I just don’t like to rush into anything. It’s nothing against you personally, but I don’t like to put labels on things until I feel like we’re past the honeymoon phase.”

I nodded. “That makes sense,” I replied. “I guess I just thought things were getting serious. I mean, I know we’ve only been seeing each other a couple months, but I can’t imagine…” I began to trail off. I didn’t know where I was going with the statement. Was Tom saying he didn’t want to be exclusive or he simply didn’t want the ‘boyfriend-girlfriend’ title? And how exactly did I address that without saying, ‘hey, deactivate all those dating apps.’

I finally continued by saying, “I can’t imagine giving so much time to anybody but you right now.”

Tom pulled his arm from around my shoulder, turned his body towards me, and squeezed my hand. “You’re definitely a main priority in my life right now, Caroline,” he began. “I just need a little more time before I can be ready to make any sort of decisions about us. I really, really don’t want to lose you, but…” Tom paused and looked down for a moment. “If that’s not something you are going to be happy with, I don’t want you to be unhappy. I don’t want either of us to feel forced into circumstances that we don’t want.”

I smiled a little even though I could kind of feel my face tensing up. I knew I felt like crying, but I couldn’t tell if I was really disappointed that this conversation didn’t go like the perfect fairy tale I wanted or if I was relieved that Tom wasn’t dumping me over the presentation of these issues.

“I’m happy seeing where things go,” I replied. “Sorry that I’ve been acting so strange.”

“No, don’t apologize,” Tom replied as he pulled me in and kissed my forehead. “I should’ve brought this up sooner. You don’t deserve to be jerked around by any guy.”

I leaned my head on Tom’s shoulder and we watched the waves for a little while longer. One would come up and then crash. Another one came up and another crash would follow. The pattern was exquisitely simple and completely predictable.