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  • He was 10 minutes late.

    Not a big deal except for the fact that he was never late. Ever. It was another one of his funny quirks – never late, super tidy, fastidious about everything. So unlike her. It’s what made him so cute, what made this so much fun.

    As she watched the clock tick, she considered yet again how she could not pinpoint what exactly “this” was. Nothing and everything, somehow. That was the truth of it.

    They were colleagues working on a project together. Nothing untoward had transpired between them, in the office or out. (He was far too decent for that.) So from the factual side of things, it was nothing. But on another level, from the inside out, things were not nearly as clean cut: She thought about him all the time. She turned on the charm full throttle in his presence, unable to stop herself even when she knew she should. He was strictly off-limits – married. Married and decent, moreover. He had a small child who was center of his life. When added together, this all started to read like a rather big problem.

    “So many issues at the outset mean no possibility of a truly happy ending” her mother had warned. “Only devastation, blame and guilt. I know that look in your eyes, darling. Please be careful.”

    She hated how her mother could always pick up on things despite her best attempts to hide them. “In the best case scenario you’ll win him over and be a homewrecker, yes? Don’t fool yourself and try to sugarcoat it…” added her mother as a final comment, throwing that much more salt into the wound.

    What about the worst case though? What would that look like? Her mother never mentioned that. As she started to consider this the doorbell rang.

    He came in looking flushed, completely out of sorts. Her heart sank. She didn’t know what was up, only that it couldn’t be good.

    “I am handing in my resignation tomorrow” he blurted out. “I’ve taken a job in North Carolina. We’re moving….”

    No, no, no…she couldn’t even hear the rest of what was spilling out of his mouth. His lips were moving but she heard no sound. As she watched his face, trying to catch the words, a silent film reel started running, faintly visible, just above his actual head. It was surreal – black and white scenes of all the moments she had secretly hoped for but never allowed herself to actually flesh out were playing out right there in front of her eyes. Though her intellect had tried desperately to keep her expectations in check it was apparent in this moment that it had lost, had been trumped entirely by something else.

    She was witnessing her heart’s dreaming, and like chinese water torture, it wouldn’t stop.

    Every second seemed like hours. Every smile, every beam of light slanting through imaginary windows, every knowing glance between them up there on that god forsaken dream screen – like drops on her forehead, endless. Where on earth was this coming from and where the hell was the off switch? All she could do was keep still, very still.

    don’t move
    try focus on what he is saying – damnit why can’t I hear you?
    do not cry

    In the throes of this panic, she remembered what she had always done as a child to calm herself. Silent counting. The predictability of this exercise was so soothing – you always knew what would come next, and it could never hurt you. So she started: 1-2-3-4… his lips were still moving. 5-6-7 … Oh God he looked so miserable. She wanted to reach out and touch him, but knew she couldn’t. The magnetic field surrounding each of them seemed to be on high alert. Crossing the physical boundary in a moment like this could be catastrophic.

    “Homewrecker” she heard her mother’s voice again.

    No, she thought. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t. Not even for him.

    She closed her eyes for just a moment, then …8-9-10. Suddenly he stopped talking. The volume was turned back on. She could hear the final flippity-flip-tick-tick-tick of the reel, and then silence. This was her cue. She was now required to say something appropriate.
    “That’s great. I am so happy for you” she said quietly, then cleared her throat.

    He looked stricken, dry lipped, his forehead glistening with sweat. He managed to coax a smile. “Thanks.”

    They were both now silent, eyes averted to the tulips on the table. Just the sound of the clock, interminably ticking. Well this was it, wasn’t it? Now she knew. She knew what the worst might feel like.
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