From that day, work became a pleasure. If the clients were cranky, she didn't notice. If her coworkers were cross, she didn't think badly of them because everyone is entitled to a bad day, even her. The weekends she spent with her boss, learning the reporting system, was spent learning how to disassemble and reassemble a giant puzzle and she liked this sort of puzzle. Her boss always took her out to lunch on the weekend, and if they stayed late, her boss gave her cab fare home.
A week before Christmas, their local vice president came to the office, assembled the staff and made the announcement. Her boss would separate from the company on December 31st and she would start on January 2nd. There was meager applause for her and some tears shed for their manager but these were shed by the hormonal women who cried at card tricks or the office actors whose office performances could earn them awards if it was something more than office acting. Some of her coworkers gave her the stink eye; some of them gave her a thumbs up; some didn't look her in the eye at all, thinking that she knew what anti-company activities they'd been up to. She did know what they were up to and she knew she didn't have to do a thing -- not take them for "the serious chat," not write them up, not make even the vaguest suggestion of a threat -- because just by knowing, they would stop right away.
Her manager paid her overtime for the weekends and evenings which allowed her to be very generous and to get a professional manicure -- not overly expensive but a treat she'd never been able to justify -- right before Christmas. She and her lovely hands bearing many gifts on December 25th.
Her family was shocked at her news but surprisingly pleased. Her aunt was still wearing the pointy witch hat and acting very happy. Her less nice cousin's brow was furrowed above her smiles.
After dinner, her aunt took her aside and told her she'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's which made her burst immediately into tears.
"Oh, please, cut it out," said her aunt. "I'm telling you because you've been through losing parents and you need to help your cousin with this. She has to learn to be strong and you're the only one who can teach her. She likes to seem tough but she is just overly sensitive. You have to show her how to get on with life, how to let me go. And how to swear. My increased usage of the F-bomb is making her cringe. I really should have sworn more at home."
She tried to hug her aunt, but her aunt brushed her off.
"Now stop it. And don't let them take this hat. It reminds me that I should have spent more time laughing and being silly, instead of so judgmental and hard. Promise me," demanded the aunt.
"Okay," she said. "Why that hat?"
"It's the stupidest thing imaginable. You look at this and you know I'm not quite right. This hat," said her aunt, "is a cautionary tale."
"They've been warned, is that it?" she asked.
"They have. So fuck the hell off," said the aunt, who smiled and tilted the hat to a jaunty angle and added, "You may hug me now."
They embraced harder than she'd ever remembered them doing in her whole life.
"So," said her aunt, "I would like to see you married before I can no longer remember who the freak you are. Do you think that can happen?"
She burst out laughing.
"No, Auntie," she said. "I can't see that happening unless the guy I thought was trying to kill me turns out to be the love of my life."
Her aunt smiled at her and readjusted the hat again.
"That would be an interesting story for your kids," said her aunt. "You go work on it."
Her aunt turned from her and walked into the kitchen where she started cackling.
"Give me a cauldron to stir! Eyes of newt and lips of salamander!" exclaimed the aunt.
"Grandma, you're the best!" she heard one of the kids say.
In fact, since her boss had told her that maybe Handsome liked her, she'd been looking around for Handsome and Kevin. As went with most every possible romantic relationship, because she wanted to see if something would happen, nothing happened and the intended party disappeared.
Kevin's car seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth and Handsome along with it.
After Christmas, there were two significant snowfalls and getting to and from work was a chore. Their clients had time off between the holidays and it was quiet there. She spent time with her boss and the supervisor, going over what she'd been taught, taking advantage of the lack of busy phones. They opened the personnel files for her and she found out that the people she'd always assumed were fuckups really were fuckups as were some of the people who'd alleged they did great work.
On December 31st more snow fell. At noon, their Vice President arrived with a cake and decent nonvintage champagne, closed the office, and led a celebration for the departure of her boss. The VP said a few words, her manager said a few more, and she herself talked about what her boss had meant to her and how her life had changed from the moment she'd walked into this office. There were real tears shed, even from her, and then they had one last sip and a round of hugs and high-fives and her boss was gone. She was now in charge.
Happy new year.
She stayed a little after everyone to make sure things would be just right on January 2nd when she came in and when she got out to the street it was pretty empty on the sidewalk. The half light of late winter afternoon pushed long shadows across the sidewalk and she decided to treat herself to a cab.
She stared up the street past the few cars and buses that drove through the accumulated slush of the snowfalls, hoping she didn't have to wait too long for a cab. She didn't see the giant approaching.
"Hey, wow, hi, happy new year," said Kevin.
"Oh!" she gasped. "You scared me!"
How she could manage to not see Kevin coming was a surprise.
"Sorry," said Kevin. "I usually surprise no one."
"Ha," she said. "Happy new year, Kevin."
"Thanks, thanks," he said. "You looking for a cab?"
"Yes, I thought I'd treat myself today. I got a promotion," she said.
"Wow, things are much improved for you," he said. "That's great news, just great."
"Thanks, Kevin," she said.
"Listen, I'd offer you a ride but I'm meeting our friend. He's got something for me to give to my wife as a New Year's surprise and then I'm giving him a ride home. You've seen my car. There is just no room for more than one other person. Car's small, I'm big, Conrad's not tiny, you understand."
"Conrad?" she asked.
"Yeah, Conrad. You never knew his name, did you? Oh, darn, don't tell him I told you. He likes being the man of mystery. Why, I don't know, but he's a good friend and if that's what he wants and it doesn't hurt anyone, then I don't much care," said Kevin.
Man of mystery. A good way to put it.
"You know he's gotten stalked. His first name and his profession make him easy to find. Women are crazy sometimes over how handsome he is. I can't much see it but my wife tells me he really is good looking," Kevin said.
She just looked at him. Kevin really was just a big nice guy.
"What's wrong?" asked Kevin. "I can't tell what you're thinking."
"Nothing, Kevin. I was just thinking what a nice guy you must be," she said.
"Do you see it? Do you think he's that good looking?" he asked.
She exhaled and smiled.
"Yeah, Kevin, I think he's handsome. Devastatingly handsome, in fact," she said.
Kevin frowned a little.
"But," she added, "his eyes seem very cold."
Kevin perked up a little.
"Yeah! They do seem cold. That pale blue. Yeah, like the Arctic Circle," said Kevin.
She spotted a cab and waved. It slid through the slush and stopped.
"I hope I see you in the new year," she said, opening the cab door.
"Maybe you can come over for dinner. The wife takes lobsters and wrestles with them until they give up insane goodness. If that makes sense," he said sheepishly.
"That sounds good, Kevin. Happy new year," she said, getting in the cab.
"Happy new year," said Kevin and as it sped away, she heard him call out. "But I don't have your phone number!"
She looked out the window in horror. She got the cab driver to circle the block so she could give him her number but when they got back, Kevin was gone.
And Handsome's name was Conrad.