What am I doing? Kyle wondered as he walked up the front steps to his new apartment. Everything I had, everyone I knew is back in Kansas City. How did I end up here?
His question had been asked by many of his friends and relatives, and Kyle wasn't sure he had ever been able to convince them of his reasoning.
"It's a fresh start," he had mentioned each time he was asked. "Life was getting stale. I hated going to work. Things just weren't looking "up" for me like they used to. I needed a change of pace.
Most people had simply nodded at that, but not his sister Jamie. Kyle grinned, remembering their conversation. His older sibling had never been one to mince words, and tact had also never been a strong suit.
"What a load of horse shit," had been her exact words. "Why are you running away from us?" she had asked.
"What do you mean?" Kyle had asked weakly, certain that Jamie could see right through his flimsy story, positive she had ascertained his true reason for leaving the only city he'd ever called home.
"Work was fine here," she spat out. "Your family and friends are here! What the hell were you thinking?" she asked, and Kyle found himself amazed at the venom her heard in her voice. He had always thought himself closer to his younger brother, who had taken his explanation at face value. Jamie, on the other hand, actually seemed upset to see him go.
"I just... it was a good opportunity," he answered weakly. "They offered me a chance to move up, and I took it." It sounded flimsy to his own ears, and judging by the look of disgust on her face, Jamie seemed to agree. He hadn't lied though, however evasive he was. He really had hated going to work. Things weren't looking "up" like they used to. He did need a change of pace.
But in reality, Kyle knew he was running away, and he was sure that his sister knew the real reason. It had been almost three years, but still the memory haunted him.
There was just too much in Missouri that reminded him of her. Too many places they'd been together, jokes they'd laughed over, too many memories. He felt trapped in the past, a past without a hope of a future.
So he had taken the opportunity to transfer to a different department, in a different city in a different state. It wasn't really a step up the corporate ladder, although he would now have more people working under him than before. He would have more responsibilities and as such a larger paycheck, but there really wasn't that much difference between being the regional vice president of marketing and the assistant to the national vice president of marketing. Technically he was now being groomed for bigger and better things, but Kyle couldn't see that his move mattered, not in any substantial sense at least.
But he had taken the job anyway. Anything to get away from a house haunted by his wife's presence. And so here he was, hauling his suitcase up a flight of stairs towards his new home, still sweaty from the two days he had spent driving from Missouri to Washington.
"Welcome to Seattle," said his new landlord - Matthew was his name, Kyle remembered - an elderly man Kyle thought had probably fought in the Second World War.
"Thanks," he answered somewhat distractedly.
"If you need anything just holler," Matthew said. "Just be sure to holler real loud," he grinned, pointing at the rather large hearing aid protruding from his left ear. Kyle started as the old man's laugh suddenly turning to a hacking cough that seemed almost to shake his frail body to the bone.
"You okay?" he asked in concern, wondering where the nearest hospital was on the chance the man suddenly dropped unconscious... or worse.
"Haven't felt this good in years," the man cackled, turning to leave. "See you around," he said.
Kyle shook his head in wonder as the man shuffled away, his veiny hand gripping the bannister for support as he descended the apartment building's rickety staircase.
Somebody shoot me before I get that old, he thought to himself before opening the door to his new home.
Kyle groaned as his eyes swept over his new living room. The movers had certainly been meticulous in their care, but the large, well-stacked pile of boxes they had left behind would easily be more than a day's work for him to deal with.
Might as well get to it, he thought, pulling open the first box, simply marked "Miscellaneous."
More quickly than he might have imagined, Kyle began working his way through his belongings. Upon opening the third box, Kyle let out a groan and collapsed back into the one chair not occupied with the detritus of the moving process.
"Oh shit," he mumbled quietly, looking at the framed picture he now held in his hand. "I thought I got rid of that months ago, about the time you left me." Johanna, why can't you let me live in peace? he wondered, fighting the urge to smash the picture against the far wall.
Never again, swore Kyle the next morning as he walked into work. That's the last time I drink that much on an empty stomach, especially the night before such an important day. Kyle looked at the large clock suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the entryway, sighing with relief to see he was still a few minutes early.
Just enough time to stop off in the restroom and splash a little cold water on my face, he thought. Anything to make myself more presentable.
After a quick stop, Kyle found himself in front of a plain oak door while a harried woman appeared ready to jump up and block his way.
"What is it, Mrs. Montgomery?" he asked, a bit more harshly than he'd wanted, a product of too little sleep coupled with too much alcohol.
"Mr. Saunders?" the woman asked cautiously from behind her prefabricated desk. "It appears there was some trouble with your paperwork."
"What sort of trouble?" Kyle asked the woman, who now seemed ready to curl up and hide beneath her desk.
"We all knew you were arriving today," she said slowly, "but it appears the notice didn't make it to the entire team, and your new office isn't quite ready."
"That's fine," Kyle shrugged, reaching for the doorknob which to his surprise came off in his hand.
"Sorry," the secretary yelped, a look of panic on her face.
"That wasn't supposed to happen, was it?" Kyle laughed, trying to fit the knob back into place.
Finally the knob seemed secure and Kyle once more attempted to open the door, eventually succeeding in gaining access to his new work home. Kyle took one step into the room before stopping short, his progress slowed both by the overpowering paint fumes and a total lack of any office furniture, much less carpeting.
"I'm sorry," his secretary said again. "There's a temporary office set up for you."
"Where?" Kyle sighed wearily, wondering how much worse the day could go.
"Downstairs," was his secretary's answer. Kyle groaned inwardly, remembering his quick tour of the corporate headquarters.
"By the phone room," she answered apologetically. "Sorry."
"It's okay," he shrugged. "I don't suppose it's your fault, is it?" he asked, trying to make light of the situation. Unfortunately his attempt at humor failed miserably.
"Absolutely not," his secretary almost huffed. "If it had been up to me, your office would have been finished last week, but no one asks me about these kind of things. And another thing," she continued, starting to build momentum, "were you aware that the contractors only showed up yesterday to start work? And they left early! I mean, if the assistant to the national..."
"I understand," Kyle laughed, surprised to realize he wasn't all that upset about his temporary location. If she talks this much all the time I won't be able to get any work done, he thought. Maybe this isn't that bad a thing after all.
"Are you sure?" she asked, seemingly near tears.
"Positive," he nodded. "Just point me in the right direction and I'll be out of your way. Fair enough?"
"Oh yes," she gushed. "Thank you!"
Soon, Kyle found himself trudging down a long hallway toward his new, temporary office. It was, as he had thought, far away from any of the other executives he was supposed to be working with, but at least it was cool in the basement, and instead of the constant chatter of voices and ringing of telephones, he was happy to hear only a dull roar of voices.
Mercifully, the key he had been given seemed to work in all the right doors and Kyle spent the next hour moving his desk and filing cabinets around the office. Eventually Kyle had the room to his liking and went off in search of something important.
"Excuse me," he asked an attractive woman, a brunette he estimated was only a few years younger than himself. "Where is the bathroom?"
"New guy, huh?" she asked.
"Yeah," he shrugged.
"That's cool. We all have to start somewhere."
"The bathrooms?" he repeated.
"Sorry! They're down that way," she answered, pointing with her left hand down the hallway. Not married, Kyle thought as he saw her fingers were devoid of any rings. Stop it, he shook his head slightly, but the years as a bachelor had produced habits too strong to break, even during the months when he had been a married man.
"Thanks," he answered out loud.
"No problem," the woman smiled, reaching out to shake his hand. "I'm Heather," she said brightly. Her fingers were cool to the touch and Kyle found himself growing slightly short of breath as her eyes locked into his own.
"Kyle," he answered. "Kyle Saunders."
"Nice to meet you, Kyle Saunders," she said. "You'd better hurry though," she grinned, releasing his hand. "You don't want to get on Estelle's bad side."
"Huh?" Kyle responded, mentally kicking himself. Smooth, he thought. Real smooth.
"Estelle," she laughed. "She'll be on my case just for getting a coffee. Don't let her catch you taking a long bathroom break."
"Who's Estelle?" Kyle asked, his curiosity overcoming his body's natural urge. Who is this girl? he wondered. And who does she think I am?
"Estelle Martin," the woman answered, questions crinkling the corners of her eyes. "Don't you work in the phone room?" she asked.
"No," Kyle answered. "I work upstairs, but my office isn't ready, so I'm down here, schlepping with you guys." Kyle paused, laughing lightly, the embarrassed expression on the woman's face evident.
"Oh my god," she stammered, the words running together into a long jumble. "I'm sorry! I just assumed you were new, but I suppose you're a little overdressed to be phone support," she said, glancing at his suit and tie.
"It's okay," he smiled. "I can normally do without the jacket, but I was trying to make a good impression on the first day."
"That you did," Heather answered, her eyes lingering on his chest and maybe, Kyle imagined hopefully, a point a bit further down. There was an awkward pause before Heather managed to pull her gaze back to Kyle's face and Kyle could see a flush forming on her cheeks as Heather realized she had been caught.
"I should go," Kyle said lightly, enjoying the moment as Heather fought her urge to run from the hallway. "Bathroom's calling me," he explained. "It was nice meeting you," he said.
"You too," Heather answered softly and before Kyle could say another word she had spun on her heel and began marching away. Kyle stood there, watching as the beige skirt Heather was wearing swished back and forth across her calves. Her legs were firm and tight, like those a dancer might have, and as he watched the smooth curve of her buttocks swaying from side to side Kyle was surprised to find himself beginning to become aroused, the first he could remember, since Johanna's death.
"Bathroom," he said quietly to himself, the image of Johanna's face a sudden intrusion into an otherwise pleasant moment. He shook his head, trying to remove her face from his memory but was unsuccessful.
After a long-needed journey to the bathroom, Kyle found himself alone in his office. The phone was still not connected to a working jack, and so the rest of his day went by in a blur and Kyle wondered if possibly he really wasn't expected until the next week.
Don't go looking for trouble, his first boss had told him. If someone wants you, let them come to you.
Kyle took those words to heart, taking time to organize and then reorganize his files and desk. Eventually six o'clock rolled around and Kyle took the stairs to the main floor. He was heading out the front doors when he heard a voice calling his name.
"Mr. Saunders!" he heard, and turned to see Heather running to catch up.
"Hey," he answered, smiling for the first time in many hours. "Good to see a familiar face."
"Thanks," she grinned, falling into step beside him. "How was your first day?" she asked.
"Good," he answered. "Things went fairly smoothly," he continued, "after I was accosted by this strange woman in the basement."
"What happened?" Heather asked.
"It was the strangest thing," Kyle replied, fighting to hold back a smile. "There I was, minding my own business, and this woman, out of nowhere comes up to me and tells me I should get back to work or I'd get in trouble!" He paused, watching as Heather processed the story, her look of puzzlement fast turning to one of embarrassed annoyance.
"You goof," she chided, slapping him lightly on the shoulder. "I thought something happened!"
"I'm just teasing," he grinned. "Actually, today was pretty boring. But I have to say, my office is about as clean as it will ever be."
"I'll have to stop by sometime," she said.
"Just watch out for Estelle," Kyle laughed as the two parted ways in the parking lot. "I hear she can be pretty strict about that sort of thing!"
"I will," Heather promised. "See you tomorrow!"
"See you tomorrow," Kyle said, waving as he watched Heather get in her car and drive away.
Kyle's thoughts were a conflicted mess on his drive home. For three years he had remained alone, envisioning himself a celibate tribute to his wife's memory. For three years he had fought the offers of blind dates or one night stands out of respect to Johanna, but suddenly he found himself, for the first time since her death, thinking of another woman.
What's happening? he wondered as he pulled into his parking space in front of his apartment complex.
Sighing lightly in confusion, Kyle climbed the stairs and entered his apartment, his sigh turning to a groan as he realized the job of unpacking was barely started. Rolling up his sleeves, Kyle grabbed another box and roughly tore it open. As he worked, he found himself thinking of Johanna, her face occasionally replaced by that of Heather, a woman he had just met and barely knew.
Unfortunately the rest of the office seemed to realize Kyle was in the building by the next morning, and by the time he reached his temporary office in the basement Kyle had been accosted by numerous people wanting to set up lunch or stop by for a meeting.
What's this going to be like when I'm not down in the basement? he thought. I wonder if I'm going to miss the solitude once I'm back on the ninth floor?
Just then Kyle heard a knocking on his door and he barked out a sharp, "come in!"
"Sorry to bother you," he heard a soft voice say, recognizing it immediately as belonging to Heather.
"Hey," he said, the tension in his face relaxing noticeably as he recognized his guest. "Sorry to sound so harsh. I thought you were someone else wanting some face time with me," he apologized.
"Face time, huh?" she grinned, walking up and leaning against the corner of his desk. "With you? I think I like the sound of that."
Kyle frowned, trying to parse what she had said, finally blushing slightly when he realized her meaning. Could she possibly be serious? he wondered. It had been years since he'd had to use his "signal" sensors. Johanna had been his first girlfriend in junior high, and only the fact that he had been so intent on his career had kept the two of them from marrying right out of college. It was one of the biggest regrets of his life that he had only been able to be her husband for seven months before the drunk driver took her life.
"You would?" he finally managed, looking up at the woman now leaning down toward him. Her movement caused the blouse she was wearing to stretch dangerously tight over her breasts, and Kyle gulped as he realized she wasn't wearing anything under the thin blue cotton.
"I would," she grinned, smiling impishly as she leaned close. "I saw you yesterday and something just clicked, you know?" she asked, her breath hot against his cheek.
Suddenly there was another knock at the door and Kyle crashed back into his chair in his haste to present an innocent looking scene to whoever might be wanting his attentions. Heather just grinned, slipping off his desk to answer the door.
"I'm sorry to bother you, Mr. Saunders," said a large, brusque woman as she barreled into the tiny office. "I was wondering if you'd seen one of my workers. She's about this tall," she said, holding her hand about five and a half feet off the ground. "She has brown hair and she's supposed to be in the phone room," the woman, who Kyle assumed was the famous Estelle, explained.
"Oh?" he asked. "Are you looking for..."
"Me?" Heather asked, turning to face the older woman.
"Heather!" she sputtered, looking in disbelief as Heather grinned at her. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"Mr. Saunders was just about to give me dictation," she said, dragging out the last word, causing Kyle to cough uncontrollably in his nervousness.
"I was? I mean, yes, I was," he stammered. Heather winked at him before turning back to Estelle.
"But... but you're needed in the phone room!" she said.
"I'm sorry," Heather apologized. "He saw me yesterday, and asked me to come into his office for a little one on one. He said we should set up some face time together. Is that okay?" she asked.
"I... I don't know..."
"It's probably a good idea," offered Kyle, beginning to warm to the situation. "I've been thinking that while I'm down here, it would be a good idea to have someone... a personal assistant. Someone to work underneath me, you know?" he said seriously to a confused Estelle, while Heather fought back laughter behind the rattled woman.
"Well, I... she's supposed to be in the phone room..." she tried again.
"I'm sure it won't be a problem," Kyle said. "Why don't you run down to human resources and see if you can't go about getting her transferred to my office?"
"I... I suppose so," Estelle muttered, turning to leave.
The office was deathly quiet as she exited the office, Kyle and Heather both waiting until the door had closed before bursting into laughter.
"Someone to work under you?" gasped Heather.
"A little one on one?" laughed Kyle.
"She's gone, isn't she?" Heather asked.
"She is. I'm assuming that was Estelle?"
"It was indeed. Now you've met her," laughed Heather.
"And what a lovely person she seems to be," nodded Kyle quickly, before turning serious. "Is this going to get you in trouble?" he asked. "That all happened kind of quickly, and I'm not even sure if I did the right thing."
"Oh, God yes," Heather answered. "I've been waiting to get out of the phone room for months! I applied to be in the secretarial pool, but haven't had the opportunity to move out of the phone room, so this is perfect!"
"Well, good. So, you really can take dictation?" Kyle asked.
"Mmm hmm," she answered coyly before licking her lips suggestively. "I can take it, all right."
"Stop it," Kyle chided her, turning look at the door. "Someone might hear you."
"Sorry," she grinned meekly. "I'll be good."
"Good," Kyle nodded.
"Unless you'd like me to be bad," she answered.
"I'll... I'll keep that in mind," Kyle said slowly, wondering what he might be getting himself into. In the space of two days he had gone from a certified loner, morbidly brooding over his loss, to trading innuendoes with a woman he had apparently just hired as his personal assistant.
What's going on? he wondered once again.
As it turned out, nothing much was going on for the next few weeks. Kyle's new office was ready after a week, and he and Heather had the unenviable task of relocating all his work from the basement up to the ninth floor. It took a day of work, but at last Kyle had a place, and with the help of Heather even felt comfortable in his new job.
"I couldn't have done this without you," he said sincerely one night. "I know this maybe wasn't the escape from the phone room you were imagining, but I just wanted to say thanks for all your help. So... thanks."
"You're welcome," Heather answered slowly. "And don't apologize for anything... this was exactly like I'd imagined it would be. Yes, the work is hard. Yes, it can be monotonous, but still... this is what I signed up for when I applied. This beats answering branch office telephone calls any day of the week!"
"Well, good. I'm glad to hear it," Kyle answered.
"Can I ask you a question?" Heather asked hesitantly. "I'm sorry if I'm being nosy, but I just have to know."
"Go on," Kyle said. "What's your question?"
"I was just wondering... do you like me?" she asked.
"Heather! Of course I like you, why would you even wonder?" Kyle replied.
"Well... I was just wondering... how come you've never asked me out?"
"You know, like on a date? Is there something wrong with me?"
"Oh, Heather... there's nothing wrong with you! I just..."
"What?" she asked insistently.
I'm still in love with my dead wife! he wanted to shout. Instead he remained silent, the shaking of his head his only movement, refusing to speak any more.
"Fine," Heather hissed, grabbing her coat and purse and stomping out of the office. "See you tomorrow, sir."
"Oh shit," Kyle moaned, allowing himself to lean down on his desk, his head in his arms as he fought back a scream of frustration. Johanna... why can't I just let you go?!?
"How's life, young sir?" asked his landlord Matthew that evening as Kyle trudged passed the apartment complex's offices.
"Okay, I guess," he shrugged. "It could be worse."
"That doesn't sound too good to me," the old man chuckled. "And I'm listening to you through a piece of plastic!" he said, pointing as usual to his hearing aid. "So what you said must have sounded really bad to a person who could hear!"
"It's fine," said Kyle, grinning at the man in spite of himself. "I just... I had a rough time at work."
"Woman problems, eh?" said the old man sagely, nodding his head in understanding. "Is it about your wife?"
Kyle spun his head around to look at the old man, his eyes open wide in surprise. "My wife?" he stammered. "How... how did you know?"
"It's my ears that are bad. My eyes are still pretty good," the man cackled. "And this is what I see... I see you, a young feller, all on his own in a dingy little apartment in my building. You don't have any kids running around or a woman waiting for you, but you have a ring on your finger like maybe you used to."
Kyle looked down guiltily at his left hand. Indeed, he was still wearing his wedding ring, although it had been mentioned to him by more than one friend that the time had probably come to take it off, but Kyle couldn't stand the thought.
"I couldn't," he said. "I couldn't stand to get rid of it."
"Did she leave you?" the man asked, squinting his eyes to look at Kyle more closely when Kyle shook his head. "Nah... you don't seem like the type of guy a woman leaves."
"She... she passed away," Kyle finally managed to say quietly.
"Well, if I didn't just step all over your emotions," Matthew said. "I do apologize. You want to talk about it?" he asked. "It might do you some good."
"I... I don't know if I can."
"It'll be all right," the old man said. "Why don't you start by telling me about her. What was her name?"
"Johanna," Kyle answered.
"Pretty name. How'd you two meet?"
"We... I don't know... I always just knew her."
"High school sweetheart?" the man laughed. "Those are nice. I married my sweetheart too. Why don't you tell me about her."
So Kyle did, starting slowly at first but eventually, to his surprise beginning to tell stories and explain feelings he's kept bottled up inside for a long time. At last he got to the most painful story, the tale of a rainy November day, a long night of work and a driver who never should have been allowed to get behind the wheel of his pickup truck.
"Ah shit... how long ago did it happen?" the old man asked.
"About... she died about three years ago," Kyle said.
"Hmm... and yet you're still wearing the ring, are you?" Matthew asked.
Kyle looked down in surprise at his hand. He didn't wear the ring all the time, in fact he had never worn it to work, but sometimes he found himself slipping it on his finger when he was around the house.
"Yes," whispered Kyle as he took off the ring and put it in his pocket. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry my ass!" blurted the old man. "Don't you ever be sorry for loving someone so much, you hear me?"
"Sorry," Kyle apologized again, causing the old man to smile. Kyle looked up in surprise, a hurt expression on his face, quickly turning to anger as the old man began to laugh.
"I'm sorry," he said finally, waving his hands in the air by way of apology. "I am not mocking you... I just... never mind. I'm sorry I laughed, but she sounds like a lovely girl, and you should consider yourself lucky to have known her, to have loved her."
"I do," Kyle said, nodding vigorously. "I am lucky."
"And you should consider yourself a fool too," the man continued.
"A damn fool, in fact. What do you think Johanna would want for you?" the old man asked.
"To be happy," Kyle answered.
"And are you? Are you happy?"
"I... I think so."
"Bull shit," the man spat out. "I look at you and you're not happy. You mope around all day when you're not working, and you sit in front of the television at night. You don't go out, you don't meet people, you just... sit around like a lump. Is that what your wife would want? Is that how you'd want her to see you?"
"No," answered Kyle sullenly. "I suppose not."
"Damn right, she wouldn't. One thing I don't understand though... for a spell, a couple weeks ago, you looked downright chipper when you came home from work... don't think I didn't hear you whistling on the stairs as you walked past my rooms. What was that all about?"
"That was Heather," Kyle sighed wistfully.
"Heather, eh?" Matthew asked, eying Kyle carefully. "I thought as much," he claimed.
"You did?" Kyle asked in disbelief.
"Yup. Thought you seemed like a fellow who might be in love. Then today you're a basket case. What happened?"
"We... I acted like... what did you say? Like a damn fool at work."
"Because of Heather?"
"I think... I know she likes me, but I pushed her away."
"Because of your wife?" asked Matthew gently.
"Yes," Kyle practically sobbed. "What's wrong with me?" he pleaded, looking to the elderly man for guidance. "What can I do?" The grizzled old landlord looked at him intently for a moment before answering.
"Tell her," he said. "Tell her what happened. It'll be good for you, and she'll understand."
Kyle sighed heavily.
"I'll do that," he said. "I will."
"Good," Matthew said. "Now help me up," he laughed, reaching out his hand and Kyle helped pull the old man up from the stairs.
"You know, for an old single guy, you're pretty smart," Kyle admitted grudgingly.
"Don't be so sure of that," Matthew laughed, reaching into his pocket. He held out his open hand revealing a thin band of gold. "It took me a long time to get over Helen," he said softly. "It took a long damn time."
"You're going to tell her," Kyle said quietly to himself the next morning as he rode the elevator up to the ninth floor. "You're going to walk into your office and tell her everything."
To his surprise however, when Kyle opened his office door it wasn't Heather, but another secretary who looked up at him expectantly.
"I'm sorry, sir," she apologized. "I'm not quite up to speed on your projects. I only found out this morning that I would be working for you."
"Where's Heather?" he asked.
"Heather... my old assistant. What happened to her?"
"I... I don't know. I could find out," she offered.
"Do that," Kyle said, assuming he knew what had happened, but he had to be sure. I scared her off, he thought angrily. She basically threw herself at me and I pushed her away. What kind of idiot am I?
His new secretary hurriedly exited the office and Kyle was once again alone. For most of the day he worked on a new ad campaign for a new brand of auto insurance his company was implementing, but he soon tired of it, thankful for the interruption of a soft knocking on the door as five o'clock approached.
"Come in," he said quietly. His heart began to beat faster in anticipation as the door opened. What if it's Heather? he thought. What can I possibly say to her to explain what happened? he asked himself, forgetting momentarily about his early morning plans. What could I say that would make her explain?
Unfortunately it wasn't Heather, but his temporary secretary who poked her head through the door.
"Sir?" she asked quietly, seeing his face darken slightly when he saw her. "Is everything okay?"
"Yes, yes... come in," he said, waving her into the office. "What's up?"
"I... I was wondering if you needed anything else," she said hesitantly.
"No, I'm fine," he answered. "You can go ahead and take off if you'd like. I'm just finishing up going over some art proposals."
"Thank you. Have a good night sir," she said, starting as she seemed to remember something. "Oh! I found out the information you wanted."
"What was that?" he asked in confusion.
"Your former secretary," she said. "She was transferred back to the phone room. What happened?" she asked in concern. "Is that normal? Was she doing a bad job?"
"No, she was doing great," Kyle shrugged. "I don't really know, to be honest. It was a surprise to me too. Thanks, that was great work," he said. "Have a good night."
"You too, sir."
Am I that fucking terrible? Kyle wondered over his fifth drink of the night. Am I so bad as that? She can't even stand to work with me? What a loser I am.
"Bartender, give me another double!" he shouted to the bartender, who looked down the bar at Kyle, who was slumped over on his stool. The bartender shook his head, but poured another scotch, carrying it down to Kyle who held out his hand.
"This is the last one, buddy," he said quietly, watching sadly as Kyle downed the amber liquid in three large swallows.
"Thanks a million, buddy," Kyle slurred as he stood unsteadily. He pulled a few bills out of his pocket, throwing them on the bar as he attempted to put on his coat. He began weaving his way toward the door, struggling to remove his car keys from his pocket.
"Not tonight," the bartender said, suddenly standing between Kyle and the door. "I can't let you out of here like that."
"Fuck off," Kyle said loudly. "I'm driving home."
"Can't let you," the bartender shrugged, nodding at someone. Kyle turned to see who was behind him, surprised as the bartender took the opportunity to snatch the keys from his hand.
"Hey! What're you doing?" Kyle asked, fighting weakly as the bar's bouncer grabbed him by the armpits, who began dragging him back toward the bar.
"We're going to get some coffee into you and call a cab," the bouncer explained. "You can't watch, much less drive. No one dies tonight because of you, got it?"
At this Kyle's demeanor softened and he felt his brain become clearer, at least momentarily. No one dies tonight, he thought. My God! Someone's wife could have died because of me.
Kyle thankfully accepted the mug of coffee he was handed and took a large sip, cringing as the hot, bitter brew burned the inside of his mouth.
"Couldn't you at least get me some coffee with cream or sugar in it?" he asked loudly, once again the drunk, angered by any apparent slight.
"Sure thing buddy," the bartender said once more. "Hang on though, the cab's on its way."
"Thanks," Kyle mumbled as he poured spoonful after spoonful of sugar into his drink, watching as the crystals dissolved into the dark liquid. He drank the rest of the coffee without incident and when the cab arrived he allowed himself to be led outside, with the promise that he would return the next day to retrieve his car.
Never again, swore Kyle the next morning as he walked into work. That's the last time I drink that much, period.
Deciding on a change, Kyle took the stairs up to his office. Panting slightly when he reached the ninth floor, Kyle paused a moment to catch his breath before heading down the hall.
"Morning," he said to his secretary, who was seemingly more acclimated to her new surroundings on this, her second day.
"Morning," she chirped. "You have two appointments this morning, should I show the first in?" she asked professionally.
"Yes, do that," he said.
Business went by quicker than he would have imagined possible, but Kyle was still surprised when he glanced at his desk clock and saw that the day was nearly finished.
God, I need to unwind, he thought to himself as he headed through the main doors and out into the parking lot, but quickly shook off the idea. Not after last night, he admonished himself. He had been momentarily confused as to the whereabouts of his car, but when he arrived at the bar to reclaim his keys he had been given a full account of the previous evening.
Best just to go home, he thought. Finish unpacking and get to bed early.
Kyle had nearly reached his car when he heard a voice calling to him.
"Kyle! Wait a second!" the voice said, and Kyle groaned, recognizing Heather's voice.
"Hi," he said once she had caught up. "What's up?" he asked nervously.
"I found out about you," she said quietly.
"What do you mean?"
"I heard you were asking about me yesterday."
"Yeah, today too, but Estelle said you weren't in. What happened?"
"I... I wanted to apologize," Heather answered.
"What for?" Kyle asked incredulously. "I'm the insensitive louse here! I'm the one who's sorry. You kind of put yourself out on a limb for me, and I just... I let you dangle there. I'm the one who should be apologizing."
"True," she grinned, in spite of herself. "But still, I shouldn't have just run off like that."
"No, you shouldn't have, but I understand."
"So... what now?" she asked.
"Well... let me make it up to you," Kyle said.
"You wanna buy a girl a drink?" Heather said, leaning into Kyle and letting him feel the soft swell of her breasts as she pressed herself against him.
"I don't think so," Kyle answered, his attention split between the feel of her against his arm and holding up his end of the conversation. "I'm kind of afraid of me and booze at the moment. How about I cook you dinner?" he asked. Heather looked at him for a long while, the distrust evident in her face.
"You sure?" she asked.
"What? You don't think I can cook?"
"Well, it's been my experience with single guys..."
"Okay," he laughed. "Fair enough. How about I take you out somewhere?"
"It's a plan," she agreed, taking his arm. "How do I look?"
"Good enough to eat," Kyle grinned, leering hungrily at her.
"Oh no!" she cried in mock horror as he burst into laughter. "Not that!"
"Okay," he agreed, leading the two of them to his car.
"Well..." she said as she paused at the door. "Maybe after dinner."
"That was great!" Heather enthused as the two left the restaurant. "I don't think I've ever been so stuffed in my whole life!"
"It was good," admitted Kyle. "I wasn't sure how good barbecue could be up here, not after having lived in Kansas City my whole life, but I have to say, it was pretty good."
"Just pretty good?" she asked in amazement. "That was the best I've ever eaten!"
"Okay," Kyle said in surrender. "It was better than pretty good, but I still say you should hold off awarding any prizes until you've had some real K.C. Masterpiece barbecue. Then you'll see what I'm talking about."
"Fine," Heather groused good-naturedly. "Ruin it by telling me I'm wrong!"
"I apologize," Kyle said happily, leaning over to kiss Heather's offered cheek.
"Good boy," she said. "You'll make someone a fine husband yet."
Kyle stiffened momentarily at her words but managed to calm himself by the time the two reached the car. She doesn't know, he told himself. It was an innocent comment, and I have to get over it.
Inside the car Heather looked at him strangely before asking, "Where now?"
"Isn't it kind of late?" Kyle asked.
"Silly, we don't have work tomorrow! We can stay out as late as we want," Heather said.
"Well then... your place or mine?" Kyle joked, wagging his eyebrows at her. To his surprise Heather seemed to consider her options before responding.
"Your place," she answered with finality. "My roommate's probably sleeping by now, so definitely your place."
Go with it, Kyle told himself. Don't think. Enjoy. Go with it.
"My place it is," he said after a moment's hesitation.
"It's nice," Heather said when Kyle let her in. He was happy to see that he had indeed done a respectable job of cleaning the place earlier in the week, not that he'd been planning on visitors.
"Thanks," he said, taking her coat and hanging it in the closet. "I know it's not that much, but I was in a hurry to find a place. The job offer kind of caught me off guard and I rushed a lot of things in the move."
"I like it," Heather said. She waited for Kyle to sit on the couch before she said, pressing against him as she slid down next to him. "Oops," she said, making no attempt to move away.