I met her in my office. She was assigned to one of the other consultants I share space with, and there was something about the way she moved that caught my eye. She seemed confident, and roamed the office at will. Normally, a new assistant will spend most of her time at her desk, and will only speak to a consultant if spoken to. Not her. She would captivate groups of us at once, telling us flirtatious stories, flashing her playful baby blues at us all.
Bobbie was small. I figured her for four foot eight, and maybe a hundred pounds soaking wet. We had talked a few times, but no more than anyone else. I found her attractive, but aside from some indirect flirting, had not really felt any chemistry. She had mentioned she was in a committed relationship, and the scuttlebutt around the office was that the guy was loaded. She had mentioned that she lived in the top floor of a very expensive condo development, so I guessed it was true, but I never really gave it much thought.
One day I happened to be walking by her cubicle late at night, and I saw her working, savagely punching away at her keyboard. Two things I hadn't seen before; Bobbie working late, and Bobbie angry. I was exhausted from a long day myself, but decided to ask what was bothering her.
"Nothing's wrong," she said in a tone that implied the opposite. She started swearing because she had made a small error and had to reverse an entry on the spreadsheet she was working with. "No. I'm fine," she continued, though I hadn't said anything else.
"Okay. Just thought I'd ask." I said in a weary tone, and started to shuffle to the door.
Abruptly, she turned and stared at me with her pale blue eyes. They were quite amazing, really. "Why are men such assholes?" she asked me.
"It's in the DNA," I said. It was the best I could do on short notice. I wanted to keep her talking, although why, I didn't know. "Problem at home?" I inquired, wondering why I asked, and whether or not she would tell me. We didn't know each other well enough to trade war stories by any means.
She shook her head. "No. Not really. It's just that John..." she trailed off, and I knew she was deciding whether or not to confide in me. People do, for some reason. I guess I have an honest face.
"John wants to buy me a car. An expensive one," she said at last. She seemed genuinely upset.
"That bastard!" I exclaimed in my best tone of mock outrage.
She smiled. I don't know why I hadn't noticed her smile before. It started up at her eyes (which I couldn't seem to stop staring at), and eventually lit up her entire face. It also revealed a small gap between her two front teeth. Not much, and if you didn't really look you wouldn't see it. For some reason, I found it sexy. I was a little deflated when her expression returned to its former serious self. "It actually is a problem. For me, at least."
She went on to explain that her boyfriend was, in fact, rich. He himself was quite successful, but he also had family money. The kind that goes way back. They had been living together for three years, and in that time, he had showered Bobbie with gifts, vacations, and other things most women would crawl over a live hand grenade for.
The problem was Bobbie wasn't most women. She didn't want John to feel like she was sticking around because of his money, so she had gone out of her way to stand on her own. She shared the bills with him, paid her own way on the vacations they took, and any money she spent was her own. She had been driving a car when she met John, but it was ready for the scrap yard, and she needed a new one. She had been looking at an economical compact car, but John said that he wanted to buy her an expensive European sport sedan. It was, he said, because he would need to borrow it from time to time when he went out of town on business.
She knew he was just trying to find an excuse so he could buy it for her. It made her uncomfortable, she explained. Her mother and her friends told her she was entitled to the car, but it didn't feel right. She didn't know how to turn it down without alienating him.
I listened as all this came pouring out of her, thinking to myself that most people would tell her to count herself lucky, and take the damn car. I honestly have no idea why I said what I did next.
"Tell him to stuff the car," I said without thinking.
She paused, and looked like I had slapped her. "Really? He won't get mad?"
"Not if he loves you," I shuffled, thinking fast now that I had stepped in it. "What I'm hearing you say is that you don't want to be a bird in a gilded cage. So don't be. If he loves you, he'll understand."
She thought for a minute. "You're right. I'll talk to him and tell him I'm buying the compact. Thanks, Bruce." She kissed me on the cheek and rose to leave. I rose too, but in a different way.
"You go, girl." Lame, I know, but it was all I could think to say.
The next morning, Bobbie wasn't at her desk. I didn't give it much thought, and got caught up in work for the rest of the day. Another damn late night. On the way out, I noticed a light on at her workstation, and went to see if she was there.
It was obvious she had been crying. Bobbie's blue eyes blazed, her cheeks were spotted and red. I didn't know what to say, so I mumbled something like, "Oh. Sorry, I'll just go."
She grabbed my arm, and motioned for me to sit down while she composed herself. It took a minute, but she finally said. "John, ah, John didn't take it so well."
I nodded. "Sorry to hear that. I guess I give lousy advice." I felt bad. I hadn't intended to cause a problem for her.
She shook her head. "No. What you said was right. We had a huge fight last night, and I realized afterwards, that it was exactly what you said."
I was at a loss. "What did I say?"
She sniffed, and dabbed her eyes with a tissue, looking at that moment as scared and vulnerable as I had ever seen her. "You said I was a bird in a gilded cage. And you were right, I was. As we were fighting, I realized that in the last three years I had changed myself to be what John wanted me to be, not who I really was. I've been trying to be the perfect girlfriend, hoping he would..." She broke down again, and cried for a short while. "Hoping he would marry me. He made it clear last night that it wasn't going to happen."
I was stunned but not entirely upset by this news. I nodded sympathetically, hoping I looked sincere. "You need to be true to yourself." It sounded totally insincere, even to me, but Bobbie just nodded.
"So what now?" I asked, curious.
"So now I need a place to stay," she said in a small voice. "I've been sitting here, trying to figure out what to do."
"You're telling me you have no place to go? What about your family? Friends?" I asked, trying to be supportive.
She shook her head. "My family are all out east. As for my friends, they were all John's friends. I don't really think I could ask any of them."
"What about a hotel? Why don't you put yourself up in a hotel for a couple of days." I suggested.
"I can't. I can't afford it." She explained that she had maxed out her credit cards during her last trip with John and hadn't paid them down. She had spent the morning packing all her things into a trailer hooked to the back of her dilapidated old car, and that had taken all her cash until the next pay day.
Now, I know that by reading this so far, you probably think I'm a clueless idiot. And you'd be right. It wasn't until just now in the conversation that I realized my opportunity.
"C'mon. You can stay with me. I have a spare room," I said as casually as I could muster. I live alone. I have for a long time, now.
She blinked in surprise, then stared at me, and I could sense her radar finally come up. There she was at four foot eight and a hundred pounds, and there I was a six four and two fifty. We were friendly, but her better judgement was kicking in. I could see her about to decline, then I asked what other options she had. She knew she didn't have one, and she sagged a bit, defeated. "But it's only for a few days. Just until payday."
I backed off a bit. "Hey," I said, a little offended, "I'm the one trying to help you, remember? If you don't want to stay, then don't."
"No! I mean, uh, no, Bruce. I do want to stay. I'm just, I don't know, a little confused, that's all. Thanks." She looked at the floor, feeling bad.
"Don't worry about it. Let's just get you settled."
I had her follow me home, and let her park in the garage next to me. We decided to unload the trailer into the storage room in my basement, and I returned it to save Bobbie having to rent the damn thing for the next several days. She seemed grateful for my help, and said so. I nodded acknowledgement, and invited her to sit on the couch in the television room while I headed to the kitchen.
"Did you eat yet?" I called from inside the pantry as I looked for something I could make fast. I didn't hear her answer, so I started to call even louder, when she said "No" right behind me.
I almost jumped out of my skin, and she laughed. I've mentioned her smile before. Her laugh is better. It almost made my near heart attack worth it. She asked me if it was okay if she made dinner. I nodded and sat down in a chair beside the table, while I got my breath back.
She poked around in my pantry for a while, then checked out the refrigerator and freezer, all the while mumbling to herself. She noticed my mini wine rack in the pantry, and asked if I felt like having wine with dinner. I agreed, and suggested a Claret I was fond of. That inspired her, and she set about assembling her ingredients while I poured us each a glass of the dark red.
Soon after, we were sharing a dish of meatballs in a sauce I had never heard of, on a bed of broad pasta noodles. I was in heaven, and it went well with the full bodied wine I had selected. I complimented her on her cooking skills, and Bobbie blushed a little.
"It's been awhile since someone appreciated my cooking. John only liked certain things, and wouldn't experiment," she said with a little lift in her voice. It wasn't much, but it was enough to make me wonder if we were still talking about food. I decided to play dumb since it's what I do best anyway.
"So he wouldn't eat this?" I asked.
"His loss," I said, shoveling another mouthful in.
We ate in silence for awhile. Bobbie seemed lost in her thoughts, and I didn't want to intrude. Besides, I had a plateful of first class vittles in front of me, and I wasn't about to let it go to waste. It occurred to me that it might be good to fill up the silence, so I grabbed the remote for my stereo, and activated the CD I had sitting in there.
Soon, Diana Krall's smoky alto voice played softly in the background. Her music has a soothing effect on me at the best of times, and relaxing with good wine and better food, it was almost magical. I waited until Bobbie was pushing her food around her plate, and then offered to clear the table. She nodded, and I suggested she relax in the living room while I cleaned. Afterwards, I topped up our wine glasses and went to join her.
When I got there, she had stretched her feet out onto the table. I noticed again how small they were, especially compared to my size 12 clodhoppers. Her head was back against the couch with her eyes closed, and I could see her swaying gently in time to the music. "Besame Mucho" had just started with a subdued yet passionate Latin rhythm. I didn't want to intrude on her moment, so I stood there silently watching.
Something amazing happens when you take the time to really look at another person, especially one you have a growing attraction for. I took in every detail of her, swaying to the music. I took in each nuance, things I would normally never see, just because I would usually be too busy to notice. I saw the small mole at the crook of her left elbow, and how her full lips formed a natural pout when she was resting. I realized that she must sculpt her eyebrows, because they were perfect in shape and length. I watched her breathing deeply, in time with the music, and noticed that under her heavy blue sweater, her body was fit and well shaped. The conservative gray flannel pants she wore were perfectly tailored, and showed that she was long in the leg for someone so small.
Enough time passed that I became worried she might open her eyes and see me standing there, so I made a little shuffling noise, and made like I just entered. Her eyes fluttered open and she sat back on the couch with her legs crossed primly. I presented her glass of wine, but she declined, claiming it would put her to sleep.
"Good", I said. "You need some rest." I put the drink on the table in front of her, and took the chair to her left. I swirled the wine in my glass, enjoying the vapors swirling out of it. After a moment, I took a small mouthful, closed my eyes, and enjoyed the flavor as it slid down my throat. I must've been showing my enjoyment, because when I opened my eyes Bobbie was watching.
"You like your wine, don't you?" she said, teasing a little.
"Absolutely. Fine wine, great food, soft jazz. It doesn't get much better." I paused, taking another small amount of wine. "And you? Are you feeling better? At least a little?"
She took a deep breath and reached for her wine. She drank deeply and swallowed. "Yes, I guess. I'm sure I'll look back and realize this was all for the best. It's just a lot to take, especially so suddenly. Did you know on Monday, I stopped at a jewelry store, that one in our building, to look at engagement rings? I had the one I wanted all picked out, and was just trying to find a way to let John know. I was so sure he was going to ask me."