I could feel my right eye starting to twitch to the rhythm of Kyle’s pen. Since I couldn’t reach over and knock the pen out of his hands, I pressed two fingers into the muscles above my eye hoping to make the twitching stop.
The chat icon on the tablet in front of me bounced, alerting me to an incoming message. I snuck glances around the conference table to confirm that everyone was focused on their own tablets, not me or our fearless team leader droning on about budgets, and clicked the message.
Janie: Dude, it’s hella cool that you can move one eyebrow like that. You look like the Grinch right now. Only less green obvi.
I shot a look across the table at Janie, who attempted to wiggle an eyebrow at me. Janie was my work bestie, and let me tell you, the competition for that coveted spot was pretty stiff. It was between her and Carl, the guy from IT who told everyone way too much information about absolutely everything. He always hooked me up with the newest tech, though, which counted as friendship in my book. Janie was an accountant at Spatium so we weren’t usually working together, but a twist of fate otherwise known as maternity leave had placed Janie on the same project I was working on. [EM1] [EM2]
Spatium was developing a powerful launch vehicle which would be capable of transporting large quantiles of cargo and human beings long distances, and would be fully reusable upon reentry. The ultimate goal was taking people to Mars, but we had a contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program that was slated to begin next year. That translated into a big budget requiring an accountant to keep costs in line with projections: Enter Janie.
I was one of the aerospace engineers working on the project. Our project leader insisted on holding weekly status conferences even though everyone on this project talked to each other pretty much daily, which meant no one needed an update so no one paid attention during the meetings. Once every few months, the CEO or some other very important person would show up from the corporate floor, and then we would all pretend like these meetings were super-informative. Today was not one of those days.
Me: I’m not controlling it! I will buy you cookies from Lola’s for a month if you knock the pen out of Kyle’s hand.
Janie: Don’t tempt me, Lennon. You know I love those cookies more than life. More than this job. What is space compared to cookies, amiright?
Me: Lola’s does have the best oatmeal raisin cookies.
My stomach made a loud rumble that I was pretty sure could be heard from space. I looked up in horror, pressing a hand to my abdomen as if that would silence the beast that had taken up residence in there. Thankfully, everyone was too busy not paying attention to take notice of a weird noise. It helped that our team leader, Dr. Schramm, was a notorious throat-clearer.
Me: Why does he make these meetings right before lunch?
Janie: I don’t know. Why do you like oatmeal raisin cookies? The world is just filled with unsolvable mysteries, Lennon. Embrace it. Btdubs, I totally heard your stomach.
Me: Great. Do you think Theo heard?
Theo was the love of my life. We were meant to be together. He just didn’t know it yet. To date, we had exchanged around 572,916 words. It sounds impressive, I know. But considering the average person speaks between 125 to 150 words per minute and the average employed adult in the United States works approximately 1,811.16 hours per year and I had been working with Theo for a little over two years, I was not making much progress toward our impending nuptials.
Janie: Aww, babycakes, you could fall out of your chair and Theo wouldn’t notice. He’s too busy chatting up his GIRLFRIEND to notice what’s happening in here.
And then there was that. Theo’s girlfriend, Sam, was a chemical engineer specializing in polymers. In a sad twist of fate, I was actually responsible for bringing them together. I have never been the best at social situations, so at a company mixer we were all forced to attend, I completely panicked when Theo started talking to me. Scrambling for something to say, I pointed out Sam and proceeded to list all the things they had in common. What I lacked in social skills, I made up for in sales. Since then, Janie had made it her personal mission to remind me that Theo had a girlfriend.
Janie: They’re making dinner plans to celebrate their SIX-MONTH ANNIVERSARY tonight. Basil at 7.
Dang it. I loved Basil. They had the best Italian. I glanced up to see Janie sneaking glances at Theo’s tablet. She was conveniently seated next to him, well convenient for creeping purposes anyway.
Me: Who suggested Basil?
Janie: Why do you want to know that? Ugh, you want to know if Theo suggested it so you can add a shared love of Basil to your list of reasons why you are meant to be together, don’t you?
Me: What? No. I just like complete data sets.
Lie. I wanted to add it to the running lists of reasons Theo and I were a perfect match. Janie snorted from across the table.
Janie: Lucky for you, this meeting is about to end.
“Okay, folks, looks like we all have a busy rest of the week—” Dr. Schramm cleared his throat and began collecting his stack of papers— “so I won’t keep you.”
Everyone shot out of their seats and made for the door like their sanity depended on it. Janie waited for me to catch up before joining the mob.
“Want to grab lunch?” she asked, as if she didn’t already know the answer to that question.
“Yes, definitely.” My stomach let out another grumble for extra emphasis.
One of the many perks of working for Spatium was the amazing cafeteria. The company hired actual chefs who prepared entire menus every week.
My phone buzzed in my hand as we made our way on to the elevator. I pulled it out and felt a smile tug the corner of my mouth up when I saw the name.
Harrison: Did you try that protein shake I put in your refrigerator?
Harrison was my older brother. Even though he was only four years older than me at the ripe old age of thirty, he acted like he was my keeper and a sixty-year-old man.
Me: Yep. It tasted like dirty socks trying to disguise themselves as chocolate.
Three little dots let me know Harrison wasn’t prepared to let the subject drop. I could almost picture him sitting in his tattoo station wearing his signature scowl while typing his response. He’d bought his tattoo shop from his mentor two years ago, and it was his baby. As far as siblings went, we couldn’t have been more different. Harrison was an amazing artist whereas I couldn’t even color in the lines. He’d majored in art at UCLA while interning at Bad Wolf Ink for four years. He was almost a foot taller than me and built like he lived in the gym while I was built like a bean pole that didn’t get enough sunlight. Harrison always told people that I got all the brains and he got all the brawn, but he was super smart in his own right. You just had to look at the success of Bad Wolf Ink to know he was a secret smartypants.
Harrison: You need to stop skipping breakfast.
My fingers flew across the screen forming a reply, but before I could hit send, another message appeared below it.
Harrison: Your fancy coffee shit doesn’t count.
I deleted my previous message, which did in fact say that I had a mocha with almond milk every morning. Almond milk was a health food as far as I was concerned. Breakfast required way too much effort in the morning. I barely managed to pull myself together quickly enough to make it to work on time after I finished hitting snooze for the eighth time. I had hitting snooze down to a science. If I hit it three times, I would have forty minutes to get ready. Every extra tap of the button decreased my preparation time by intervals of ten.
Me: Sir, yes sir.
I couldn’t help smiling as I imagined Harrison rolling his eyes while reading my response. Ah, siblings—gotta love ’em.
“So,” Janie said, loudly enough to be heard over the noise in the cafeteria, “have you thought anymore about the dating site I showed you?”
“Sure.” I hoped my noncommittal response would be the end of the dating discussion.
I did not want to have this conversation with Janie again. She may have tended toward ‘nerd’ on the spectrum of behaviors, but she was beautiful and outgoing. Her dad was Korean and her mother Swedish, and the result was pretty much perfection in physical form. With long caramel-colored hair, stunning almond-shaped eyes that were the color of melted chocolate, and a complexion like porcelain, Janie never lacked for attention from the opposite sex. If she wasn’t one of the nicest people I’d ever met, I would have been required to hate her on behalf of all of us physically inferior beings.
“And?” Janie prodded, placing a salad on her tray next to some yogurt.
“I’m still thinking about it,” I mumbled as I made room on my own tray for a basket of French fries. I was feeling like a little comfort food. Between Theo’s anniversary planning and this dating talk, I was starting to feel a defeating combination of sad and pathetic.
I followed her to the cash register, swiping my ID and shooting a weak smile at the cashier. But my reprieve was short-lived. As soon as we sat down at an empty table, Janie continued her lecture.
“I know you love complete data sets, so here are some data points about online dating.” She spent the entire lunch trying to convince me online dating was an excellent idea, while I shoveled French fries into my mouth and mentally named my future cats. By the time we left the cafeteria and parted ways, I knew exactly what I needed—and it wasn’t an online dating service.
[EM1]Bouncing between present and past tense here; the instinct is understandable in that you’re telling a story about something that happened at some point in the past but, presumably, the people involved still carry their same roles and descriptions. (So like Janie might not still be talking to Frank at the water cooler, but she IS still 5’7” with brown hair.) But the bouncing verb tenses do tend to distract – I would advise keeping everything in past
[EM2]Suggest cutting the ‘currently’ (see above re past/present) and consider ‘leave had placed Janie on’