I knew it was going to be a problem. I’d just found out that the latest project was due in the following morning; a day earlier than expected, and I wasn’t looking forward to calling a meeting with my team leaders. To save the embarrassment of putting them on the spot, I decided to see them individually. I felt the pressure rise as Maggie rushed over.
‘I’m sorry to spring this on you Maggie, and don’t worry if you can’t do it—I’ll understand—’
‘I’m sorry Blake, but I can’t,’ she said.
‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘You don’t even know what I was going to say.’ She was always trying to predict the future, like she was some kind of witch or something.
‘The project—it’s a day early isn’t it?’
I shivered when she said it. ‘How the hell—excuse me, but how did you know that?’
‘I saw the note on your desk, when I left the case files before,’ she said. ‘I would’ve stayed though, if you’d told me sooner.’
‘Does anyone else know?’
She shrugged. They probably would, I thought, they’d all have their excuses ready. She just sat there swinging her legs, obviously wanting to get back to her work. I wondered if she still dressed as sensibly outside of work. ‘Well I was going to ask you, if you’d have stayed of course, if you’d erm, have liked to go for something to eat—after work, I mean—’
‘I can’t stay tonight Blake.’
I took a deep breath, ‘But what about later on, when I’ve finished—we could maybe go then?’
She looked uncomfortable and I knew I’d failed. ‘Sorry Blake, I can’t’
‘Ok Maggie, sorry about that.’ I left the room and headed straight for the toilet to gather myself. What was she doing that was so important—more important than her work? It wasn’t like her.
Back at the desk I felt something crash into my back. It was Chris. ‘Fuck’s sake Chris—don’t do that!’ I said, feeling sick of the world.
‘Whoa, sorry man—I didn’t mean to upset you,’ he said. ‘You ok?’
The concern in his eyes made me feel guilty. ‘Yeah, I’m ok, just got a bit of a shock.’
‘Chris, I wanted to ask you a favor—’ I noticed he wasn’t listening. He was watching the new girl lay some files down on my desk.
‘These are for you, Mr Belane,’ she said, positioning them carefully and adjusting them so that they were perfectly straight.
‘Blake,’ I said.
‘Sorry?’ she said, leaning forward.
I knew she’d heard, but she was trying to wind me up—I wasn’t in the mood. ‘Call me Blake,’ I said, turning back to Chris.
My face burned with anger.
‘What you shaking your head at?’ Chris said, obviously amused.
‘Kids today—they’ve no respect.’
He was gazing after her. ‘Well if she’s a kid, they better lock me up now. Look at that ass.’
‘What is she—twenty, twenty five?’ I said. ‘That’s still a kid to me Chris. I’m twice her age—she should be showing me more respect.’
Chris was giving me his confused look. ‘You sure you’re ok? I mean, I really wouldn’t take it to heart bud, she’s just flirting.’
‘I call it taking the piss,’ I said, leafing through the files.
Chris was the office dog. They all loved him, and he loved them back—well, all the pretty ones. I never understood how they could so obviously know what his game was, but still fall for it anyway.
‘You need to let off some steam Blake, get yourself laid—I’ve never heard you mention any women before, and I think it’s what you need. You’ve been working too hard; you need to treat yourself once in a while.’ He turned and picked up his sandwich. ‘Hey, what about tonight? You can join me and Joanne—I’ll see if she’ll bring that friend of hers, what do you call her…’
‘I wanted to talk to you about tonight actually—’ I said.
‘Yeah come along, it’s gonna be great—did I tell you about Joanne? I met her at the King’s Arms last Saturday? She’s wild—what a fuck! I don’t normally drink through the week, but for her I’ll make an exception. Dirty as a dog’s ass. I’m sure her friend will be as well—what do you say?’
I drew a deep breath. ‘I’ve just found out that the project needs to be in tomorrow—I’m going to have to stay late to finish it off.’
He shook his head and took a bite of his sandwich. ‘That’s a shame Blake… a real shame,’ he said with his mouth full.
‘Well actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about…’
He looked at me as if he was thinking about something else, until he suddenly stopped chewing. ‘You mean—you want me…’
I felt his devastation mingle with my own, and it made me feel even worse. ‘It doesn’t matter Chris, I’ll manage.’
‘You sure Blake? I mean, that’s really good of you. Thanks—I’ll make it up,’ he said, slapping me on the back.
I shrugged his hand away, ‘It’s ok.’
‘Hey I know what’ll cheer you up—you’ll never guess who Merv the Perv’s been shagging now…’
‘Are you talking about Marvin?’
‘But that name doesn’t even make sense—’
Chris gave me a funny look. ‘Who gives a fuck—do ya want to know or not?’
I thought I probably wouldn’t believe him anyway. Smelly Marvin was the lowest of the low, he’d been moved down to the post room since his sexual harassment case, but most people thought it was because of his personal hygiene. ‘Who’s he been shagging then?’
He moved his face close to mine and whispered, ‘Saggy Maggie.’
My whole body went cold. Was it true? Is that why she couldn’t stay behind? ‘Excuse me.’ I stood up and walked. I didn’t know where, I just felt like I had to move.
I did my best to hold my head high as I went back into the building, making sure I ignored Maggie’s team on the way to my desk. I sat down on my own, glad that Chris had gone, and that he wouldn’t have a chance to confirm the rumor.
‘Hey Blakey baby.’
I looked up and it was her again—the new girl.
‘Listen, you can’t call me that, it’s Blake, and you can’t keep bringing work to my desk—you’re meant to give it to your team leader.’
She bit her glossy lip. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realise.’