What is it that makes a man and a woman catch fire the moment they set eyes on each other? I've heard it called hormones, or pheromones, or just the accidental coinciding of two vulnerable personalities. I'm a scientist, but not in the life sciences, so I don't understand that kind of stuff. What I do know now is that it really happens, because it happened to me.
Jan had just been hired, and her manager was taking her around to introduce her to all the people she might be working with. I felt it the instant our eyes first met, but of course I tried my damnedest to keep from showing anything. I couldn't see any visible sign in Jan's face, either, and yet I somehow knew that it had hit her the same way it hit me.
Weeks later we talked about that morning, and she confirmed my suspicion. She also said she had thought the same thing I had, that she couldn't see anything in my face, but she somehow knew it had hit me too.
I was in development and she had been hired in documentation, so we weren't going to be working especially close to each other, though we would have some contacts. For about a minute, during that first meeting, my mind was reeling with possibilities. I'm single, but I make it rule not to date anyone on my team. Her job was far enough away that the rule didn't apply. Then I saw the rings on her left hand, and rule #2 took over. I'm not the kind of guy who hits on married women.
I managed to avoid her completely for a week, but then I was looking something up in our manual to prove a point to a team member and I spotted an error that had been there for who knows how long. Normally I would have just sent an e-mail about it, but I talked myself into believing that this one needed to be handled in person. Which is how I ended up standing in front of Jan's cubicle.
"Hi, Jan," I introduced myself, "You probably don't remember me, but I'm on the WhiteWolf development team. My n..."
"Your name is Ron," she cut in, "of course I remember you."
"That's amazing! Do you really remember the names of all the people you met that morning?"
She flushed. "No, I, well, I, I was sort of guessing. You mean I really got it right?"
OK, score one for her for a quick recovery. But she obviously did remember my name, and there was something special about that for her, and she nearly panicked when she realized her secret was out. Oops, we're staring into each other's eyes again. Time for a quick recovery on my part.
"Sorry to interrupt you, but I spotted an error in our manual. Would you be able to take notes on it, and see that it gets fixed in the next revision?"
No question, that was a definite sigh of relief. I wonder what she was thinking I might be here for?
"Sure, I can take notes, and see that something gets changed," she said a bit hesitantly, "but I hope you don't think I understand all this stuff yet. I could easily mess it up."
I chuckled, "I'll let you in on a secret. Even I don't understand all this stuff yet, and I'm supposed to be the team leader."
"Yes, I remember," she whispered, looking down at the floor. "But I think you're putting me on." She was looking into my eyes again. "People say you know more about WhiteWolf than anyone."
"No, I'm not putting you on." You don't know it, I thought, but there is no way I would dream of trying to pull anything over on you.
"WhiteWolf is a very complicated project, and no one really understands it completely. But don't worry, we always go through a review cycle for manual revisions. If you should mess it up, not that I think you will, we'll have plenty of time to correct it." God, how I loved looking into her eyes.
"Yeah, but, since you are so special ... I mean since you are such a key part of the team, I want to do everything for you exactly the way you want it. I mean ... I guess I feel that way about my job in general. You guys are the real power here, I'm just here to help you ... express yourself ... yourselves."
Cool it, Ron. Rule #2. Besides, even if I wanted to take this further, this cubicle isn't exactly the most private place. Which led the devil in me to make a most improper suggestion.
"Look, I know you want to get off to a good start here, and it can be embarrassing to have some goof show up in a formal review, so if you'd like, you can bring your updated text by my office so I can look at it first." I almost added "privately" but thought better of that.
"Oh, would you? That would be wonderful." I could swear that was adoration I was seeing in her eyes. "But first," she suddenly switched to a businesslike faint smile, "you need to show me where the problem is."
That I was happy to do, and the rest of our brief meeting was totally above board.
The next day, shortly after lunch, I heard a tap on my open door and turned away from my computer screen. It was Jan. I smiled broadly and invited her in. I'd been waiting all day for this, hoping she would show up. One of the perks of being a team leader is that I have a real office with a real door that can be closed for complete privacy. But this time I decided it would be best to leave it open. Our conversation would still be private so long as we kept our voices reasonably low, and the chance that someone might stop by would keep me from trying anything inappropriate.
I don't have a desk in my office; just a work counter along two walls. Jan came over beside where I was sitting so she could give me the sheet of paper in her hand.
"Here," I offered, pulling a second chair out from the counter, "sit down so we can look at this together."
She seemed to hesitate, but finally did as I asked. I read her change through and pointed out one word which was grammatically correct, but not in line with the specialized terminology in our industry. Then I looked up and found her anxiously looking at me for approval.
"It's very good, Jan, very good indeed," I said, smiling as I looked into her eyes.
"Jan," I added after a moment, "I think we need to talk about something."
She nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving mine. "Yes, Ron, I know. But Ron, whatever you're thinking, and whatever I'm thinking, we have to remember," and here she raised her left hand and rested the fingertips against her cheek, "I'm a married woman, and I want to keep it that way."
"I know, Jan. I'm not married, but I make it a rule to never, ever, interfere with the life of a woman who is. But I do have to say ... if you weren't married, I would have been hounding you for a date the entire week you have been here."
"No, Ron, not exactly. Because if I weren't married, I would have long since said yes, and we would have already been on a date ... if not more than one."
"But that," she said, getting up suddenly, "is the subjunctive and, as my English prof would say, we don't live in the subjunctive. I think I'd better go, now."
"Jan," I stopped her halfway out the door, "we both know what we cannot, and must not, do. But I desperately want to have a chance to talk to you. Could we meet in the cafeteria for lunch sometime soon?" To try to coax her I added, "That's completely public and completely safe."
"I, I, I'd like that," she stammered. "I can't do it tomorrow, but maybe on Thursday?"
"OK, I'll send you an IM a little after twelve, and then," I grinned, "we can sort of accidentally end up there at the same time."
"It's a deal." She winked at me and was gone.
Over the next two weeks we had lunch together, not every day, because that would have been too obvious, but about half a dozen times. Thank god for IM. It let us vary the time we met from day to day, further masking what we were doing.
We both knew, and talked openly with each other about knowing, that what we were doing needed masking. It was almost like a virtual affair. As if we were making love to each other with our half-whispered words, covered by the background noise of the cafeteria. We talked about everything: life, and love, and our dreams, and what we had accomplished so far. I came to know her parents, and her sister, and her husband whom she loved very much. I opened up about my troubled childhood, and my loneliness, which I had locked deep inside myself, living a seemingly carefree life.
We were the best of friends, but friends who desperately wanted to be lovers, and knew it would never happen.
One night I worked late, as I often do, and it was dark as I made my way out to the parking lot. The lot was not very well lit, but by that time of the evening the mass of cars had thinned out, so I never had any problem finding mine. Suddenly I saw a too-familiar figure in front of me, and my stomach did a flip flop.
"Jan, is that you?"
She whirled around. "Oh, thank god, Ron, I was so scared! I heard footsteps behind me, but I was afraid to look. I have never left this late, and I don't think I ever will again."
"You're right, you shouldn't. Let me walk you to your car."
She was shivering with fright, so I did the only thing I could do. I took her hand to comfort her. She gripped my hand convulsively.
"Where's your car?"
"It's over there somewhere," waving with her other hand, "it's a red Datsun."
"It probably won't look red in this light, but we'll find it."
We did, of course, and she sagged against it in relief. Then, to my great surprise, she released my hand and wrapped her arms around my neck.
"Oh, Ron, thank you, thank you," she exclaimed in my ear, with her cheek pressed against mine. I couldn't resist, and reached around her waist, pulling her shivering body to mine.
"Oh, yes, oh, yes," she breathed, clinging to me.
.... There is more of this story ...