Waiting for a ride
The band were doing their best to sound professional, but they could fool no one. Still, no one minded. The great reception hall brimmed with life, the sound of chatting and clattering echoing and dominating over the poor musical performance.
Two companies celebrated the success of their joint enterprise. It was a great moment to throw a lavish party to honor the success. Both sets of executives sat together at one long table. Other tables were shorter and mostly populated with staff from either one or the other company. There weren’t many mixed-staff tables, but there were some, and Meg sat at one of them. Four people from her company, three from the other. The eight of them formed a mini-unit working as a liaison. For the past six months they were seeing each other on a daily basis, making sure everything went smooth. Smooth it went. As it turned out, they formed quite a team. There were no struggles over power and dominance, no backstabbing, nothing but respectful cooperation one could only wish from their co-workers.
“Meg, Joel, see you on Monday,” William said as he bid them goodbye and left. She smiled and nodded. William worked for that other company. In the past fifteen to twenty minutes Trish, Macy, Clark, Stephen and Abby also left. It was almost midnight. The table suddenly lost its charm. The only person left as a company, sitting two seats to the right was Joel. Meg turned to him and gave him a quick smile, raising eyebrows and shuddering her shoulders. He sat at the corner of the table, visible in the corner of her eyesight. The way he sat he could watch her easily. When she turned and smiled at him, he gave her a light smile, but also a tense stare. The Joel stare.
Joel never said or did anything remotely disrespectful, but something about him made her unease. It was time to call Luke. She sent him a text, to which he replied that he would come pick her up in twenty minutes. Pretending to watch and listen to that poorly performing band, she waited for as long as she could, and when the time was right, she stood up.
“Wow, this was great, the food, the band... Time for me to leave now. See you, Joel.”
She could not be sure, but she had a feeling he had been watching her the whole time she pretended to pay attention to the band. The look in his eyes was almost accusing. And there was one more thing. She really wished she took her coat with her, because standing in a dress in front of him suddenly felt uncomfortable to the point of being immoral. ‘You’re overreacting again. This time it’s not him, it’s you’ – a little voice mocked inside her head. The dress she wore was nothing special, quite modest, in reality, but it was more body-hugging than her usual business outfits. The bad combination of a few factors – her being self-conscious in a dress, him seated in front of her, that weird look in his eyes, the absence of other people in the immediate surroundings – that’s making you overthink things, she rationalized to herself.
“You didn’t really like the band,” he said as he stood up to bid her goodbye. He didn’t ask, he simply stated what he saw as a fact.
“No, not really,” she smirked, a little taken aback.
“See you on Monday,” he said.
She turned and walked away, away from the table and outside. The second she walked out to the parking lot, she wished again she had brought a coat. It was too cold for her dress. Luke should have been there by then. Cold, cold, cold, she thought as she fidgeted from one foot to another.
She glanced at the restaurant door just in time to see Joel leaning on it, looking in her direction. The silent stalker. When she spotted him, he stopped leaning and walked to her.
“Luke not coming yet?”
“He’ll be here in a moment”
“Are you cold?”
Meg just gave him a nervous side look.
“Here. Take this.” His dark suit jacket slid off his shoulders and found its way into his arms. A matching waistcoat revealed a black shirt underneath and some silver jewelry around the neck and on wrists.
Meg raised her eyebrows, unsure of what to do. “I don’t know…”
“You’ll freeze. I’ll wait with you. Take it off when you enter the car.”
“Oh, what the fuck. Give me the jacket,” she said as she took it from him and put it on. Her face brightened as she took in the warmth. “Oh, this feels good.” She sighed and gave him a look slightly longer than usual. The bald men in front of her still looked tense, his light eyes questioning something, short facial hair not showing signs of relaxation or pleasure. He was always so painfully tense.
Looking past his shoulder she saw a familiar car approaching. The damage was done, Luke has already seen her in this man’s jacket, so she might as well keep herself warm until he pulled the car next to her.
Meg opened the car door, and gave Joel his jacket. Two men exchanged short glances and hellos. She said goodbye to Joel, and Joel said goodbye to her.
“Sorry I was late. Traffic,” Luke apologized as they drove off.
“It’s okay. But I should’ve had my coat with me. It’s so cold now.”
“Good thing Joel was there.”
Meg heard a spike of hostility in Luke’s voice and decided to ignore it. Luke acknowledged her silence, but was not ready to let go.
“Is he married? Is he dating anyone?”
“Not married, not dating, at least that’s what he says. He doesn’t talk much about his private life.”
“You should hook him up with one of your friends,” Luke said in a cheerful tone. Fake cheerful, Meg thought.
“Yeah, I totally should.”
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five.
Thirty-five steps away from the place where she wore my jacket.