Near the end of a particularly difficult work week, I found myself stuck at the office after hours, working late again.
J called around 9 — he was downstairs, just outside the office building doors. “You’re… here? Are you okay?”
He said he was fine; he ‘just came by to say hello.’ I was unconvinced — no one drives a few hours just to say ‘hello.’ Slightly panicked, I rushed downstairs to meet him and figure out what was going on.
“What’s wrong? You can tell me. What are you doing here?”
His warm smile assured me there was no disaster and nothing seriously wrong.
“I came to say hi and give you a hug.”
At a distance just past arm’s length, I squinted my skepticism while I waited for an explanation.
“Nothing’s wrong. I just… I know you’ve had a rough week, and you’re stuck here tonight, and I’m not going to see you this weekend… and I really did come to give you a hug. That’s all… really. I promise.”
I examined his face for some sign of trouble, but all I saw was a faint hint of… pride? The longer I stared at him, the more it looked like he was pleased with himself. As I figured out what was going on, my alarm faded away and was replaced with equal parts relief and amusement.
I know my boy. He thought of a sweet gesture to make me smile, and having done it, he stood before me looking slightly smug, waiting to be praised. Despite his pleased expression, his hesitance to move forward or to touch me suggested he was unsure of how I might react — my boys knows me too.
I scanned the parking lot behind him, now only sparsely populated with a handful of cars. Almost all my coworkers had gone home hours ago. Confident no colleagues would witness a display of my affection, I stepped forward and wrapped my arms around J’s neck.
“You’re sure there’s nothing wrong?”
“No. There’s nothing wrong… I promise. I just came for a kiss.”
“Wait,” I teased, “You said you came to give me a hug? And now you want a kiss?”
“I’m greedy, remember?”
“Yeah, I know,” I laughed, “but that’s a hell of a long way for just a hug and a kiss… you’d better make it worth the drive.”
A car door slammed somewhere and I remembered where we were. Distracted, I touched my lips to his and pulled away.
“That’s it?” He was either confused or hurt, I wasn’t sure.
“Technically, I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with you being here, but you probably shouldn’t be.”
“Oh… sorry… I…”
“It’s okay…” I cut him off and turned to scan my ID. “My floor is pretty empty… you can come up and see my office.”
“Oh… ok. Are you sure it’s okay?”
“No… I’m not sure.” I smiled and held the door open, gesturing him inside. He hesitated for a moment, then did as he was told.
We walked through the lobby in silence, only exchanging whispers after the elevator doors had closed.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.
“Yeah. I’m okay. Are you okay?”
“Because you’re here… and you’re not supposed to be here.”
The elevator opened and we fell silent again until we were inside my office. After I locked the door behind us, J looked around briefly and began scanning the titles on my bookshelf, leaning close to read the spines in the low light. I hate the garish overhead fluorescent lights. In the daytime, there’s more than enough sunlight courtesy of a generous window at my back. In the evening, I prefer soft light from a floor lamp in the corner and a small reading light on my desk.
As he scanned my shelves and looked around, I did too, realizing how much — and how little — my office said about its inhabitant. With very few personal mementos, almost no color, and plain dark furniture, my office could have been anyone’s office. The only items that marked the space as mine were thickly-framed certificates on the one wall that wasn’t already taken with a bookshelf or a window. I like it that way — my colleagues respect me for the work I do, not for who I am, and my work space reflects that. As a young female professional in a competitive, male-dominated field, I don’t want photos and knick knacks undermining the credibility and reputation I’ve worked so hard to build.
When J was satisfied, he stood in the middle of the room looking lost.
“You can sit.”
I motioned to the chair opposite mine across the desk. He sat, looking uncomfortable, and still hadn’t said a word since the elevator. I wasn’t exactly comfortable either. I wasn’t expecting him, but he was here. I invited him in, but I wasn’t sure what to do with him. We sat across the desk from one another in an awkward silence born of caution and of not knowing what to do.
Mercifully, I remembered what I had stashed in one of the low desk drawers. A few months prior, someone had gifted me a bottle of 18 year reserve, not quite good enough to save for a special occasion, but too good to justify opening by myself.
As I pulled the unopened bottle from the drawer, I felt like I was setting up a cliched office fantasy. Perhaps I could have, if only I had proper highball glasses from which to drink.
J grinned when I set the bottle on the desk between us. He laughed out loud when I pulled out a short stack of red plastic Solo cups, cupping his hand over his mouth when he heard how the sound carried through the otherwise silent space. I chuckled too, thinking about how perfectly this fit us.
“Everyone knows disposable cups put the emphasis on the whiskey, not the delivery system. I find that red plastic brings out the subtle amber notes.”
“The amber notes?” he teased. “Amber… color notes?”
“Of course. Only the most refined palate can taste the color notes.” I opened the foil, wrestled out the cork, and poured.
He lifted his red plastic cup. “What do we drink to?”
I thought for a moment, and responded with far more confidence than I possessed: “To office fantasies.”
I smiled, despite being surprised by my own response. I touched my cup to his and brought it to my lips. I was grateful for the momentary distraction — I had no idea what to do next.
(will be continued…)