Work was especially weird that day: the calls were long and trying, the clients were cranky and/or demanding, and her manager, one of the most even-tempered people she knew, was in a very crabby mood.
She returning from the restroom a little after lunch when her manager intercepted her and asked her to come to her office instead of going back to the phones.
"You know we're really busy," she told her manager. "Shouldn't I just take calls?"
"I know, I know, but it won't take long, and it's something I want to tell you," said the manager.
They walked silently down the hall to the office and she seated herself while the manager closed the door and sat at her desk.
"I am so sorry I've been such a bitch today," said the manager. "I know you've noticed. Hell, everyone's noticed. But you're the only one I can trust to tell things."
She'd no idea she'd created such an aura of trust but she hadn't engaged in gossip since coming to this location. At the other location, she and Lee would talk up a storm, but thinking about it, they were swapping stories about the people in Lee's life. His roommates, his partner, his roommates' partners, his roommates' partners' families and friends, his partner's family and friends, his family, and this guy on the bus he thought was dreamy were all topics of information. Lee took the bus right before hers.
"It's at the stop after the supermarket," said Lee.
"By the resale shop that has furniture?" she asked.
"Yes. There. He gets on there. Blond. Trim. Clear skin," said Lee.
"No, the guy who gets on there has the body of a potato. He's like a cross between a spud and a troll but he's always looks rested and pleasant," she advised.
Once the blond bus man did get on her bus and trudged to the back and sat next to her.
"Guess who was on my bus today?" she quizzed.
Lee looked at her slack-jawed.
"What do you mean?" Lee asked. "Who?"
"Your bus crush," she said. The'd seen him on the street once and she remembered his face. When they saw him, Lee blushed and twitched and giggled. He waved at the crush and the crush waved back and Lee told her who he was.
"He was? You think he was on your bus?" he asked with disbelief.
"Was he on your bus?" she asked.
"No, but I think Spudman was on mine. Hairy? Black glasses? Kind of misshapen?" asked Lee.
"Yes, that sounds like him. Average height," she said.
"Yeah, I think it was him. So what did my guy do?" he asked.
"He came to the back and sat next to me," she said.
"NO!" he exclaimed. "Next to you? What happened next?"
"I resumed watching my movie," she said. "Did you think we would make out?"
"Well, no, no, I didn't think that," he said.
"But he did look at me sideways but probably because I was looking at him sideways. I finally just grinned and stopped looking sideways so if he was still looking sideways at me I don't know because I stopped looking sideways at him," she said as fast as she could get it out.
"And don't you think he's cute?" asked Lee.
"He's 28, Lee. He looked like a kid to me," she said.
Because he did look like a kid to her, or someone's kid, and nothing like a love interest. He looked like he might be a love interest for one of her younger co-workers.
"Hmmmph. But for me. Do you think he's cute for me?" he asked.
"Cute in a kid sort of way if you didn't have a partner," she said.
"I can look, can't I? I'm not dead," he said.
"Fine, fine, whatever. He is also straight," she said.
"I know," said Lee with resignation. "He wears straight shoes."
She tilted her head to the left and smiled.
"I love you," she said.
He smiled back and similarly tilted.
"Shut the fuck up," he said. "This conversation's not over." And Lee proceeded to spend the rest of their time talking about how cute the blond man was.
Her manager that day looked concerned and a little upset.
"I am sorry that I've been snappish," said her manager. "Things are getting crazy at my house and I've decided to take another job."
Her heart sunk. Her manager was on her side like no one had been in years.
"I'm divorcing my husband and I need to be home more for my kids. He's decided he doesn't have to work but I do. I've decided he can go live in his mom's basement. His mom thinks that's okay, apparently, because she told me she always knew it would be this way," continued the manager.
She cocked her head and expressed puzzlement. Her face was way too expressive. She really had to work on that.
"I asked her, 'You knew he'd decide he wasn't going to work for a living, that I'd have to do everything around the house plus provide for everything, and that I'd get frustrated after years of it and toss him out?' And she said, 'You don't appreciate his gentle soul.' I told her I appreciated his gentle soul but since he needed mothering, he should move back in with his mother. I told her he didn't want to be around after school when the kids needed someone to drive them to classes and practices and make sure homework got done. He didn't like to cook dinner and he hated cleaning the house. She said, 'Someone loves him now.' I told her I still loved him and the kids certainly loved him but no one could ever love him as much as he loved himself, not even her."
She paused and looked while she tried to keep her face neutral.
"So I am leaving and I want you to apply for my job," said the manager.
Her jaw went slack, her eyes got wide, and she said nothing.
"I am going to teach you how to do this job so when I get ready to resign, you'll know how to do what I do and you can apply and they'll give it to you," said the manager.
She couldn't believe it. Her manager was sane and pleasant and she knew she'd never be as sane nor as pleasant.
"What about our supervisor?" she asked when she found her voice.
"She doesn't want it," said the manager. "She can get out right on time the way things are now and that helps her with daycare and train schedules. She suggested you take it. Plus they hate giving management jobs to people who've not been to college and you have a degree. Most people have some college but not many people here have a degree."
She suddenly didn't feel like she was going crazy. She suddenly saw the life ahead of her as one of new things, exciting opportunities, challenges, and expanding vistas. She saw herself in an office. She saw Lee sitting across from her in the office, eating sandwiches they'd had delivered from the expensive sandwich place. She saw Handsome and Kevin standing in the lobby, waiting to see her so they could give ask her to help them with their jobs.
"From the look on your face, I think the answer is yes," said her manager.
"Yes," she said. "Yes, thank you. The answer is yes," she said. "But what will you do?"
"It's pretty sweet. This company needs managers who are willing to be creative and work from home but still have a strong presence in the businesses of their clients. It so happens that my clients are all in that part of Indiana where I live. I don't have to see them very much but the one farthest away is a 30-minute drive," said the manager.
They smiled at each other.
"You might have to come in a couple of weekends to learn reporting. I might ask you to stay late with me. And you can't tell anyone yet. You have to promise," the manager said.
Of course she could say yes because she really had no strong urge to talk about every last detail of work with people. First she had to think about moving to a much nicer place in a more convenient neighborhood with something other than a mega-sized hardware store two blocks away. A library. A grocery store. A park. Restaurants and businesses. All nearby. And maybe parking in the same building. So many things to consider.
"Of course I promise," she said. "Now let me tell you a weird little tale."
She spilled it all from beginning to end as fast as she could because clients were waiting to have their phone calls answered.
At the end, the manager screwed up her face for a couple of seconds and said, "Did you think he might just like you?"
No, she had not considered that at all because she was convinced he was trying to kill her.
"You really don't give yourself any credit," said the manager. "To me it sounds like someone who likes you. For pete's sake, he wanted to buy you a coat."
"To lure me into his trap," she said.
"His trap of generosity?" asked the manager.
"What about last night? At the hardware store?" she shot back.
"Sounds like a couple of guys who were glad to see you," said the manager. "You never considered they might just like you? And one of them very much?"
No, no, no, she'd not considered that possibility at all.