The seminar was finally finished. All the participants milled around in the aisles; some trying to leave, some genuinely captivated in conversation.
"You look awfully familiar," his voice came from behind her. "Maybe at an owl exhibition?"
She quickly spun around to see his smiling face staring at her. She smiled, too. "It's you!"
They talked for a few minutes, quickly getting passed the polite introductions necessary for a first-time meeting.
"I-I should be going," she apologized.
"I understand," he replied. "We'll talk soon." He gave her hand a squeeze then quickly moved through the throng of people and disappeared.
"Are you ready, Michelle?" Eric asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Yes; let's get out of here and relax!" The seminar had been long and boring, but necessary. Eric and Michelle needed the information and networking available at these things to help their company continue.
"Hey, listen," Eric offered, after walking Michelle to her hotel room. "I was thinking about going for a swim. Why don't you come with me; just a couple of laps? Then, we can relax a little in the hot tub and talk about today."
Michelle nodded. "I'll meet you downstairs in five."
By the time she entered the pool area, Eric was already swimming laps.
"Took you long enough!" he chided. "Come on in; the water's fine."
Michelle looked around and noticed only one other couple in the area. They were older and looked like they were getting ready to head back to their room. Without thinking, Michelle dropped her towel and jumped into the water.
"Ah-h-h-h-h!" she screamed. "You jerk! You said the water was warm!"
"First off," Eric corrected, swimming up next to her. "I said the water was 'fine, ' not warm. Secondly, it feels great to me now; of course, I've already been swimming laps." Michelle splashed water in his direction as she swam off.
She wasn't as strong a swimmer as Eric, but she enjoyed the exercise. After about five laps, she knew she was done.
"Let's go into the hot tub," Eric suggested, noticing Michelle's fatigue. They quickly left the pool and moved to the deserted hot tub area.
Eric sat across from Michelle and noticed her seemingly melt into the warmth of the bubbles. He always enjoyed watching her. It might be hard for him to know what she was thinking at work, but her expressions were unmistakable when she relaxed.
"Who was he?" he asked, pulling Michelle out of her trance.
"What?" Michelle was having a hard time hearing across the distance of the tub with the noise from the bubbles.
Eric moved right next to Michelle, allowing his hand to rest on the edge of the tub behind her neck. "Who was he?" he asked again.
"The man you were talking to at the seminar. I thought you didn't know anyone."
"I didn't think I did. I didn't expect him to be there. That was the first time we've met."
"You seemed pretty friendly for meeting the first time."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm just saying ... you seemed awfully friendly for just meeting. I've been trying to date you for three years and I get nothing. You just meet him and you've been glowing since."
"How dare you! What gives you the right?" Michelle was sitting up straight in the tub now. Eric could see the flames in her eyes as she spat the words at him. Without taking his eyes away from hers, Eric lunged forward and mashed his lips against hers. When they parted, Michelle ran from the pool area, leaving Eric to chastise himself.
Slowly, he pulled a towel from the stack by the pool, wrapped himself in it and headed back to his room. He was wrapped in his thoughts, as well. What had prompted him to kiss her? They were co-workers, and friends; nothing more. Everyone had warned him that Michelle was off-limits. She had brushed off every advance every other man had sent her way; she didn't want the complications of a relationship at work, she would tell them.
Back in his room, he finished drying off and changed into sweatpants, wondering if he should knock on the door separating their adjoining rooms. Eric could hear Michelle moving around in her room, but nothing more. He sat in a chair opposite the door, just staring at it and listening to her movements. After a few minutes, there was a knock at the door.
Michelle marched in the room, still dressed in her one-piece swimsuit with a towel wrapped around her body.
"What did you do that for? How could you? I thought we were friends. You practically accuse me of being a slut and then haul off and kiss me! What got into you? How could you?" Eric allowed Michelle to rant and pace for a few minutes more before speaking quietly.
"Who was he, then? No accusation, just curiosity. You say you've never met him and, yet, you were quite friendly. Isn't he a bit old for you?"
Michelle stopped and stared at Eric for a minute before answering. "I met him through one of the chat rooms I belong to. We started flirting in the room a bit and then exchanged e-mails. Through the e-mails, we sent each other pictures of ourselves. That's how I knew who he was."