The loft seemed more open and less crowded with all her stuff gone. Jason surveyed the added space in his closet for the fifth or sixth time and sighed. "It also seems pretty lifeless now..."
It wasn't as if he hadn't seen this one coming. After you've been in a few relationships that fall apart, you start to see the writing on the walls. The initial denial that there is anything wrong, the long silences during the day, that at first you both chalk up to companionable silence. Finally, the snippy-ness and the fighting takes up more and more energy until, like a rubber band, the whole thing snaps. Then next you have the inventory of 'that's mine and this was yours'. Jason had long ago learned to label anything he thought was of value.
"I'm getting too old for this shit!" Jason was, at 27, a little too old for all this shit. The whole junior high drama was getting a little old. "Why, oh why can't I find the one? The one woman that I know is out there somewhere looking for me?" Opening a window and leaning outside, Jason shouted "Where are you?" Somehow the city managed to hold that secret tight.
Monday dawned in its usual late fall splendor. An even downpour fell firmly onto the city, and the rain slick streets returned the morning commuters to work in a gray mood fit to match the skies.
Jason checked his mail queue and then the help desk queue to see what earth shattering crisis had bubbled up while he was away for the weekend. There was the usual cloud of 'cluser' problems that could be dealt with as time allowed. "Hmm... what's this?" Jason muttered to himself when he saw a request from Human Resources to set in a new user. "Looks like Accounting has a new worker bee... Melinda..." With that Jason put on his gear vest and headed out into the addled world of the clusers.
Having navigated the sea of cubicles that was the outer ring of Accounting (or was that Hades?), Jason was lying under a cube desk trying to trace a cable run when a pair of ankles and the bottom edge of a short skirt moved into his field of vision. From his vantage point on the floor he could see almost all the way up her skirt. What he saw he liked, and he had to think long and hard about batting averages so as not to give his feelings away. Lying on your back under a cube desk is not a good place to get a hard on! Besides, he reminded himself, she might look good from down here, but all he could see were her legs. The rest might howl at the moon for all he knew. That thought took the last hints of arousal clean away. More than once he had seen a nice set of legs attached to something that had crawled out from under a rock, or was the second coming of the Wicked Witch of the West!
Since he'd traced the cable run back to the wall port, Jason slid out from under her desk, saying "Excuse me, but if you could step back a bit I can get out of here without crawling between your legs."
With a slight giggle, the legs in question moved back and to the left, into the opening to the cube farm.
Jason scrambled to get up on his knees. As he turned, but before he stood up, Melinda stepped back into the cube to allow a delivery to pass, so when Jason stood he came up very close indeed to Melinda. Close enough to fully enjoy her scent, to feel the warmth of her body, and to look deep into her clear blue eyes. A bit embarrassed to be that close to a stranger, he tried, unsuccessfully, to step back but the inner wall of the cube kept him from moving very far. At least he could see more of her face and wasn't so far inside of her personal space.
"Uh, umm, I'm Jason from IT Services..." He tried to offer his hand for her to shake but there really wasn't enough room.
"Hello, I'm Melinda", she said as she also extended her hand. She did not back away.
As a result they managed to barely touch in the space between them. The warmth of her hand almost took Jason's breath away. So much so that he blushed a furious shade of red. Well, definitely not a rock dweller, but the witch...
After waiting a beat or two for Jason to recover, Melinda offered, "So, you've come to set up my computer, have you?" And the smile she favored him with almost set him back to blushing.
"Yes, err, umm, yeah!" Jason stammered while trying to clear his head and not sound like a total moron. "I mean, yes, I'm here to set up your user account here in Accounting and to let you know when your orientation to IT is scheduled." He ended with a lopsided smile that he hoped looked less stupid than it felt. "I can show you the basics of getting to your e-mail and such, but the big picture stuff will have to wait until tomorrow afternoon. You'll be so busy trying to get the lay of the land that you really won't have much use beyond that between now and then anyway."
"Oh, and will you be giving the orientation tomorrow afternoon?" Melinda asked with what she hoped was the right amount of interest. She knew it was always useful to be in good with the guys from IT, and besides that, he was kind of cute.
"I'll have to check the schedule, but it should be one of us, so... perhaps I'll see you tomorrow afternoon?" Well, at least his voice hadn't cracked like in junior high. Damn! This is like asking for her home room number, or what lunch she has... damn, damn, damn!
Like she was reading his mind, or had been on the other end of a lot of these types of conversations, Melinda asked, "Are you doing anything for lunch?"
Lunch. What had always been a simple activity involving the intake of sufficient calories, now had become a potential battleground. Jason wasn't at all sure that he was up to the task. Sure, he had eaten lunch with women before, even pretty women. But something about this lunch felt different. Like it was somehow both a test and a trial by fire, and there was no way in Hell that Jason was going to fail. And this was no normal lunch. It was a first lunch with a woman that, when he took a moment to sort it out within his mind, looked like she was everything he could wish for.
Melinda was five foot six inches, or so, and had shoulder length strawberry blond hair that was lightly curled. She had those intensely blue eyes he had fallen into during their first somewhat cramped meeting in her cube. She was slender without being too slim, curvy in all the right places, and that smile... Jason's soul almost cried out the first time she smiled at him. All in all she was the woman of his dreams... all of them!
Jason wasn't a slouch, nor was he a typical geek in that he did work out and was in better than average shape. As a plus he had interests outside of computers and stuff. At five feet eight he was not imposing. He could carry on small talk on a wide variety of topics, and could play a mean game of pool. But somehow Melinda had gotten the better of him and all he could do in her presence was look lost and goofy. Lunch promised to be, interesting...
"So tell me Jason, how long have you worked here?" Melinda asked as she munched happily on her Cobb Salad.
"Well, I've been here almost long enough to be vested, so that's what... almost five years I guess." Jason watched as she ate with delicate precision and for the third or fourth time wondered what is she really like?
"Listen, it was really nice of you to have lunch with me. What with this being my first day here and all, and not knowing a soul..." Melinda once again tilted her head to the side which she did whenever she asked a question she seemed interested in hearing the reply to.
"Well, it's not like I have a lot of other offers." Jason said with a frown.
"What, a good looking guy like you?" Melinda opened her eyes wide as if this caught her by surprise. "I mean, you don't strike me as awkward or overly geeky!" This last was said with another of her infectious laughs.
"Well, Ma'am, I thank you kindly..." Jason said with a Southern twang and a mock tipping of his hat.
Melinda shocked them both by bursting out laughing, then covered her mouth when others "prairie dogged" to see what was so funny. Still laughing, though not as loud, she socked him on the arm, eyes twinkling with mirth.
"All right, all right, that was unfair..." Jason said while he screwed up his courage. Then figuring what the hell, he asked, "Can I make it up to you with a drink or coffee later?"
"Sure!" Melinda said, "When?"
Rubbing his 'injury' while stalling for time Jason said "Okay! How about tonight for a drink? I'll stop by your cube after work and then we can walk over to a place nearby that's not too bad. Maybe get a bite to eat too?"
"Okay you're on!"
Monday: Late Afternoon
Although he'd worked through many opening lines in the hours after lunch, Jason was no more certain what to start with when he saw Melinda than he had been before lunch. The only real change was that he now had a dry mouth and sweaty palms to go with his confusion. "Why oh why does this woman do this to me?" he muttered to himself as he got off the elevator and walked into Accounting.
Melinda had been far too busy with her orientation to the department to spend a lot of time thinking about Jason. Not that during the occasional boring part of one of the hundred little talks she had had with co-workers and her supervisor she hadn't had a moment or two to wonder what he might be like.
Ruth, one of her co-workers who worked two cubes over, had mentioned to her that she thought Jason was single and currently unattached. She said that he normally didn't date anyone from work, and was pretty quiet. She also let it be known that she thought he was a hottie! This had made Melinda laugh again, and both of them had been reduced to giggling uncontrollably by the end of the day.
Melinda decided that she had a new friend in Ruth, and confided in her that Jason had asked her out for a drink after work. Ruth had nodded and then changed the subject back to what they were supposed to be going over about work. At the end of the day Ruth had simply said "Have fun!" on her way out. Her giggles could still be heard as Jason walked up to Melinda's cube.
"What was that all about?" Jason wondered as he leaned against the edge of her cube.
"Oh, just a little shared joke. You know Ruth?" Melinda asked.
"Sure, everybody knows Ruth. She's a lot of fun!" Jason said without elaborating. "So, you ready to head out?"
"Sure, just let me log out and grab my coat and umbrella, and we're off."
Monday: Early Evening
'Katie Downs' was an Irish pub located on the waterway. It had an extensive bar, all polished brass and hardwood, and a surprisingly good menu. All in all it was one of Jason's favorite places to go. It wasn't a 'sports bar', nor was it a 'fern bar'. It was just a good old fashioned pub, sort of dropped onto the waterfront. Most people who hadn't been inside had no idea what they were missing, and those that were regulars didn't go out of their way to talk the place up.
Jason chose a booth along the side, away from the water-facing windows. From the booth they could see the view, but not be on the receiving end from the outside.
"Listen", Jason said to Melinda, "have you been here before?" When she shook her head 'no', Jason said, "Do you have a drink you would prefer, or do you trust me to order? Also, how hungry are you?"
"Well, I think I'd prefer a good beer, and from the smell of the place their pizza sounds like a winner. So, yes I trust you to order, and I'm sure I'll eat my share." And she favored him with another of her brilliant smiles.
When the waiter showed up, Jason asked for a pitcher of Red Hook India Pale Ale and a medium house special pizza. When the beer arrived, Jason made sure to pour hers first and managed to keep from spilling as his hands were shaking with nervousness. He covered it by gripping the pitcher a little harder.
Raising her pilsner glass in a mock salute, Melinda said, "To good friends!" Jason tapped the edge of her glass and agreed. "Listen", Melinda said, "I don't normally go out drinking with a man I've only met at work today. I wouldn't want you to get the wrong idea about me." Again she tilted her head seeking his reaction.
"Well, Ma'am," he once again said in his mock Southern twang, "Just what ideas would those be?" It was his turn to see her blush, very prettily by the way. "Actually," Jason said, "I have a confession to make. I don't usually ask out people I work with. What's more, I need to let you know that I just ended a relationship and she finally moved the last of her stuff out this past weekend. I'm not looking to have those kinds of ideas, or at least not yet." And again she colored nicely. "But I would very much like to get to know you and see what happens next."
"Jason, I would very much like to get to know you, and see what happens next as well..." Melinda said as she watched color creep up his neck and into his cheeks. "Besides, you're kind of cute when you blush" This of course caused him to blush even more. Reaching across the table she gently touched his hand as she looked into his eyes.
After eating, Jason and Melinda settled into their booth to chat. Jason discovered that Melinda enjoyed bike riding and trail climbing. Melinda found out that Jason enjoyed swimming and a good book by the fire. They also found that they were growing to like each other quite a bit.
Over a friendly game of pool both Jason and Melinda managed to brush against and generally bump into each other more than the game actually called for. By the end of the game they were blatantly bumping each other to disrupt the others' shots. Eventually the game dissolved into teasing and innuendo and all attempts at keeping score, as far as pool was concerned anyway, were abandoned. The number of times that Melinda's smile lit up the room was priceless.
Walking Melinda back to her car, Jason stopped for a moment at the crosswalk and simply looked up into the night sky. At first Melinda didn't notice that he had stopped, so she had to back track a step or two. Jason stood there staring into space, so Melinda stood next to him and also looked up.
"What ya' looking at?" she asked after a moment of silence.
"Well, the moon is out and you're not howling!" And he looked at her slyly to see her reaction.
Laughing brightly Melinda grabbed him by the arm and said, "Well not yet anyway. Do you usually make it a habit to make your dates howl?" She laughed harder at the stunned look that crossed his face.
Jason stood at the front of the IT training room nervously waiting to see who, other than Melinda, would be in his class. Sometimes they got lucky and it was one-on-one training. Jason had had no trouble switching with Bill, the other IT Tech., to get this class. Now he stood at the front of the training room waiting to see Melinda and if they would be alone or not.
Melinda entered in a flash of cobalt blue. Her skirt and jacket were a rich almost metallic color and it made her look stunning. Jason had to fight down the urges he felt, the combination of the color and her bright eyes touching a chord inside him that he had not felt before. Not sure if they would be alone or not he smiled at her, then walked her to a seat at the front of the class. Gentle touches were exchanged as he helped her to her seat and placed her name tent on top of her monitor. Not that Jason would have any trouble remembering her name, but it was for appearances sake.
For security reasons (mostly to keep computers from sprouting legs) the IT training room was a ten by ten room with no windows and only one door. The door had a card reader lock set to accept a small number of cards. Since Jason controlled the system that set the card reader access for the entire building, today the training room would only accept one card, his.
After waiting for a few more minutes to see if anyone else was scheduled for training, Jason shut the door and walked to Melinda's side. "I'll bet you really don't need a whole lot of training." he said in an almost whisper, "but I'm here to help you in any way I can..." And the brush of his fingers on the back of her hand caused an involuntary shiver to race up her spine.
"Well," she said in a throaty whisper, "I've always wondered if what they say about IT guys is true?"
"And what do they say about IT guys?" Jason said as his fingertips traced their way up her sleeve and along her jaw line.
"Well, don't take this the wrong way, but I hear that this whole awkward geek thing is all an act?" Then she reached up and pulled him into a gentle kiss.
Jason slowly leaned against the door to his loft while trying valiantly to hold onto a grocery bag in one arm and Melinda, who was kissing her way along his neck, in the other. "Sweetie, I need to set this down before I drop it. I don't want to ruin the wine or dinner!"
Melinda laughed and then spun into the room before pulling up short. "Wow, you told me you had a loft, but the view; my God!" She rushed over to the floor to ceiling windows and took in the view of the city. Because of the rain, the lights of the buildings twinkled and glowed like halos.
"Well, if I can tear you away from the view, I'll give you the nickel tour!" Jason took her into the crook of his arm and slowly turned her around in the center of the room. "This is the Great Hall", he said in his best pompous imitation of Robin Leach. "And this is the gourmet kitchen and dining hall." By this point Melinda was laughing so hard she had to double over to catch her breath. Jason's voice took on another, softer quality as he said, "And this, dear lady, is the bedroom" Taking her hand, Jason gently led Melinda up the open staircase to the master suite that formed a loft within the loft.
The lights of the city spread out below them cast a warm, twinkling glow over the room. Jason had left the lights off on purpose, and the effect of the city light on Melinda was magical. She walked over to the window and peered down on the bustle below. Jason walked over and pulled her into a hug from behind.
"This is just so, so, I don't know... unreal?" Melinda said as she snuggled back against him. "I mean I knew you said you had a loft, but in my mind I pictured one of those warehouse things. This is just too perfect." Melinda sighed as her attempt to put into words her feelings wound down.
"Jason, I need to tell you something, okay?" and she leaned back into his embrace to see his eyes. When Jason gently kissed the side of her face, she took it as encouragement and pressed on. "I'm not very good at all this... stuff." Her hands fluttered at her sides.
"What stuff is that, love?" When Jason touched her cheek he was surprised to find it damp with tears. Turning her to face him he felt her shake in his arms while she sobbed. Not at all sure what to do with a suddenly crying woman, he did what came natural and held her close, silently stroking her hair and waiting.
"Oh, God... I told myself I wasn't going to do this." as she sniffed and rubbed at her eyes, not really caring what happened to her makeup.
Steering Melinda to sit on the bed, Jason peppered her with questions. "Did I do something wrong? Am I moving too fast? I can slow down, really I can... Please, Melinda, I need to know what's wrong?"
"It's not you, Jason. Really it's not. You've been a perfect gentleman, honest you have, and I think I really want this, but..." and again her hands fluttered in her lap. "Listen, just listen okay?", Once she was Jason was listening. She stood up and walked back to the window. Once there Melinda looked off into the distant city lights for a moment while she marshaled her thoughts.
"I need to tell you this so you will understand what just happened, and so you can hopefully help me with something, okay?" Glancing over her shoulder briefly, she turned back to the window. "My first time was a total disaster. I was young, he wasn't. I thought I was in love, he wasn't. I thought I was ready, he didn't care. I wasn't raped, if that's what you're afraid of, but it wasn't nice either. I've had a hard time trusting men..."
Jason got up and walked over to stand next to her, as close as he dared without actually touching her. She smiled up at him gratefully, and reached out to take his hand. He used this contact to pull her back into his arms. Once back in his arms she sighed.
"Listen, none of this is about you, but it is about you in a way. Does that make any sense at all?" and she pulled his arms tightly around herself as if drawing strength from his proximity.
"Melinda, I'm not at all sure what to say, and I know I'm going to bungle this, so please let me get it out before I lose my nerve." Now it was Jason's turn to draw breath and think for a moment.
"I know we haven't been together for long, but I just know that I want to get to know you. There is something about you that just sort of makes my head light, and my heart sing. Look, I know this is going too fast, and I know I don't want to blow this. So here's the deal: I need you to be able to trust me. I cannot have a relationship with you if you don't, 'cause it will fall apart. I want to spend however much time it takes to get to know you, and for you to get to know me."
"Thank you, Jason. That's more than I had hoped for..." Melinda pulled him even tighter to herself and rocked back and forth in his arms.
"Listen, I didn't bring you up to my bedroom to take advantage of you, or at least not totally..." A hint of a smile crossed Melinda's lips at his kind words. "And, I think you are certainly worth the time and effort to get to know you better. Look, I think I'm falling for you, and well, if it means we slow down and do this right, then by God that's what we will do!"
"Thank you, Jason... more than you'll ever know."
Having worked furiously all morning, on work that did not require the energy or the level of busyness, all in an effort to get up the nerve, Melinda finally walked the two cube doors down and casually poked her head into Ruth's cube.
"Hey, Melinda", said Ruth with a sly smile, "You fitting into that square hole okay?"
"Yeah, the work isn't too hard... and my boss isn't as big a dork as you warned, at least not yet, so there is hope still." Leaning closer in, she said, "Are you free for lunch? I really need to talk, and I don't know anybody else. It's kind of important."
"Hey, do I have to rough Jason up for ya'?" Ruth said, while grabbing her coat and umbrella.
"No, no this isn't about Jason. Or at least it isn't about anything he did, but, well... oh damn! It is about Jason, and I need your help..." Melinda said as she finally got it all out.
"Okay, okay. Don't get your knickers in a bunch!" Ruth said as she herded Melinda toward the elevators "I was kinda looking forward to bustin' some chops, though."
Over lunch Melinda told Ruth everything. Watching the emotions fight with one another on Ruth's face had been, interesting. Having Ruth go from wanting to castrate her first with a dull plastic spoon, to wanting to rush out and hug Jason for being a 'good guy' was a lot to take in.
Ruth had tried to get Melinda to talk it all out before they went back to the office, but the lunch hour just wasn't long enough. It was long enough for Melinda to finally decide that she had to take the plunge and trust Jason.