Sunday, February 24, 2013

She Is Where, Part 33

Their eyes locked and he smiled.

"Well, look what the cat dragged in!" exclaimed Handsome.  "I thought you'd fallen off the face of the earth."

She smiled broadly at Handsome.

"Nope," she said.  "Just working too much and staying off the streets."

"Well, if you have a job, you don't need the streets.  Am I right?" he asked with a grin.

"Mostly, but sometimes a person needs some mad money," she replied with a chuckle.  She hated when she chuckled but she couldn't help herself.

"So good to see you," he said.  "You're a sight for sore eyes."

She blushed and said, "Stop.  Stop!"  She felt like a schoolgirl.

The receptionist was listening to the conversation and watching it like a tennis game.  Handsome knows HER?  He's happy to see HER?  She knows HIM?  And they're FLIRTING!  It was all over the receptionist's face which they both noticed.

"Let's go to my office and you show me what you got at Costco," she said, turning to lead the way.

He walked next to her to her office, swinging the bag slightly, its weight apparent.

She stopped at her office door and indicated he should enter first.

"After you, sir," she said.

"Thanks, doll," he said, entering the office and placing the heavy Costco bag on the low filing cabinet.  She closed the door.

"Alone at last," said Handsome.

"Tee hee," she said and held out her hand as she said her name.  They locked eyes and shook hands.

"Pleased to meet you for real," said Handsome.   "My name is Conrad.  I'm a jeweler.  I specialize in gemstones but diamonds are my specialty."

He handed her his card which said, "Conrad Stones.  When Special Matters.  Nonconflict Gems Our Speciality."  There was a phone number and an email address but no physical address.

"Your last name is Stones?" she asked.

"Oh, no," he said emphatically.   "I can't put my last name on my card.  For some reason women like to stalk me.  They show up at my house and want to talk.  They call me and leave creepy messages."

"Creepy," she said.

"I don't get it.  They don't know me.  The one I want to know me runs from me," he said.  "But not today."

Did he mean her?  She decided to let that one go.  At that moment, Handsome's eyes were no longer cold.  They had flecks of gold and dots of green and splatters of a paler blue.  She thought she must be blushing again so she changed the subject.

"So what'd you get at Costco?" she asked.

"A variation of the ususal," he said.  "Bananas, a chicken, a half-gallon of 2%, socks, a sack of tilapia, and a three-pack of Rogaine."

His delivery was deadpan.  He unzipped the bag and took out two briefcases and two sets of handcuffs.

"I didn't know they sold handcuffs," she said.

"It's not a warehouse item.  Mail order only," he said.  "If I walk down the street carrying two briefcases, one shackled to each wrist, I will draw attention.  Some guy with a Costco-frozens bag?  Not so much."

"What will you do today?" she asked.

"The groom usually picks out five or six somewhat similar diamonds and fifteen settings ahead of time  I come in and talk about the lock on love and then he goes on one knee, and I take the cuffs off and open the cases.  Sometimes the guy has no spending limit and wants his bride to get precisely what she wants, no matter how cheap or expensive.  The guy today is like that.  Attorney?  Trust fund guy?  Author?  I don't remember.  I have beautiful stones today.  But my favorite part is when I make the diamonds dance."

"High kicks?  Splits?" she asked because she couldn't imagine.

"Cute," he said.  "I have to remember the splits thing.  I lay out a pad covered in black velvet and turn a light onto the pad.   I take the stones from their bags and use giant jewelers tweezers to line up the stones.  Then I hit the stones just so and they turn different ways so every facet of the stone can be viewed.   I talk about the color, cut, clarity, and carat and I keep the diamonds hopping."

"That sounds awesome," she said.  She wanted to see it right then.

"It really is," he said.  "The first time I saw something like that was when I was in college.  My parents took my sister and me to Europe and my dad arranged for us to go to a diamond broker in Amsterdam so my mom could pick something for their anniversary.  The saleslady really made the diamonds perform.  I never forgot it."

"Is that when you decided to be a jeweler?" she asked.

"No, first I finished college and went to law school because the law was my passion," he replied.

"How'd that work out?" she asked.

"Really very well," he said.  "I just hated practicing law.  It happens.  So I started saving and took gemology courses at night and on weekends and on the internet.  I took a vacation and spent three weeks in the diamond district in Antwerp.  I went on safari to South Africa and got to visit a diamond mine.  The thing that I kept thinking was that I could make someone happy by making the diamonds dance."

"And there are no gemologist jokes," she added.

"Yes!  Exactly," he said.  "How many gemologists does it take to screw in a lightbub?  No answer that I know of."

"Two," she said.  "One to screw in the lightbulb and one to make sure no one stole any merchandise while it was dark."

He looked at her blankly.

"You know I like you, right?" Handsome asked.

She could feel herself blush.

"Let me leave you here and check on what's happening in the conference room," she said and walked out the door, leaving it slightly ajar behind her.

She was still blushing when she got to the supervisor's desk.

"I hear he's handsome," whispered the supervisor.  "I hear you know him.  Is that right?"

"We've met," she answered.  "He has the briefcases handcuffed to his wrists."

"Wrists?  Wow, that's a lot of merch," said the supervisor.   "Go to the conference room in five minutes."

"Thanks," she said, and headed back to her office where she told him they'd go in five minutes. 

They chatted amiably about Kim's boyfriend and that he was very generous and had good taste.  When they'd exhausted that topic, he asked her again.

"You know I like you, right?"

She looked in his eyes and blushed again.

"I guess," she said.  "It's kind of strange for me, but I guess I do.  Know.  That you like me."

"You guess?  I offered you a job.  I followed you into a busy department store at Christmas," he said.

"You tried to buy me a coat," she countered.

"I tried to buy you a coat," he said.  "I liked that you refused and disappeared, by the way."

She blushed again.

"I think we can go into the conference room now," she said.  "They told Kim it's my birthday."

"That's what I suggest when I'm booked for one of these," said Handsome.  "Throws the intended off any scent."

He followed her into the conference room which was stuffed with employees.

"SURPRISE!" called out Kim and the employee with aroma issues.  He was not very discreet and they'd not let him in on the secret.

"Surprise yourself," said Kim's boyfriend who had told her he would love to stop by for a piece of birthday cake when she told him about the party.

It was all a blur as Handsome tossed down the briefcase and did his lock-on-love speech and Kim's boyfriend got down on one knee and Handsome opened the cases.  The room was silent.

"Do we have to talk about this here?" said Kim.  Every single person whipped their head to look at her.

"Excuse me?" said her boyfriend.

"Can't we talk about this later?" said Kim.  "At my place?  Tonight?"

"Uh," said the boyfriend.

"Tonight," hissed Kim and turned and walked out of the room.  Seconds later, Kim's boyfriend headed for the door, looking upset.

Everyone looked at around at one another with just their eyes, each embarrassed to have seen that.

The silence was broken by the middle-aged lady who liked to wear spaghetti straps.

"Do you have a card?" she asked.

Handsome took a card from his pocket and gave it to her. 

"Your last name is Stones?" she asked as if she were a 17-year-old flirt.

"Yes, that's my last name," he said sarcastically as he locked up the briefcases and walked out of the room back toward her office.  She followed and closed the door.

"That's just the type who stalks me," said Handsome. 

"That's just the type who likes to wear spaghetti straps that don't cover her bra straps," she said.  "No one wants to see that at work."

She sat at her desk and watched Kevin pack up his Costco freezer bag.

"Has that ever happened before?  The girlfriend refusing to answer?" she asked.

"Yes," said Handsome.  "Not often.  That's why the groom pays cash up front for my time."

"Oh," she said.  "Very smart.  It's too bad.  The speech was very sweet.  I wanted to see what else you had planned."

"Thanks," he said, continuing to pack.

"Kevin invited me to dinner," she said.

He stopped packing and looked at her.

"Please call him now," said Handsome.  "While I'm standing here.  We can set a date and I can relax."

She blushed again.  He told her the number to dial.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

She Is Where, Part 32

The Universe, being what it is, liked to insuate itself into her life.  The day after the Fourth of July holiday, she was summoned to the H.R. office where she was joined by their big boss, in town for the day.

"You're doing a great job," said the boss.  "We are most impressed."

"Thank you," she said with great apprehension.  Being called for a meeting with someone in charge when you didn't know that person was in town is jarring.

"I can see you're worried.  Stop worrying.  I mean it.  You're doing great.  So great that we want to send you on a seminar for a week in Vegas," he said.

Vegas.  Interesting.  She didn't think of Vegas as a place for a seminar, but what the heck.

"Next week," said the boss.  "Someone from the Portland office decided he better not go because his wife is due to give birth any day now.  So there's an opening that we don't want to go to waste and I thought you'd be perfect."

"Next week?" she asked.  She was hoping to see Kevin and Mrs. Kevin and any Kevin offspring next week.  Oh, and eat lobster.  And meet Handsome.

"Yeah, the seminar is Tuesday through Thursday.  You travel on Monday and come back on Friday.  Here's the phone number of the travel agent handling it," he said as he handed her the card.  "You'll be staying where the seminar is.  Luxor, I think."

Vegas.  A free trip to Vegas.  She been there as a college student and had looked at it like a sociological experiment rather than a city of fun and frolic.  She'd enjoyed herself immensely but had to remind herself at the airport that it was America and she didn't have to convert her currency back to U.S. dollars. 

"This has been in the works for nine months and we've chosen the most promising managers to attend.  Your ex-manager was due to go and was replaced by someone in Kanas City, just like this guy was slated to go but probably impregnated his wife when we told him," said the big boss.  "So you're going in his place.  You'll have a generous expense account for meals and incidentals and the room is already paid for.  Tell me you'll go."

"I'll go," she said, somewhat breathlessly.  Kevin and Handsome could wait.

"That's terrific," he said.  "Now go make nice with your supervisor so she can make nice with her babysitter and maybe stay late if she has to.  Oh, I know.  Tell her I approved her driving and parking every day.  Tell her I'll pay for additional for the babysitter.  Tell her I'll pay mileage, too."

"Very generous," she said. 

"Not so much generous as the price of doing business.  She's a sharp cookie and I want her to be happy.  I know her situation and I don't want to take advantage," said the big boss.

"You don't want to tell her?" she asked.

"No," said the big boss.  "If she has questions, she can track me down.  Please tell her I hope she does it."

The supervisor was a reasonable individual and with her boss approving everything so she wouldn't say no, she was confident it would work out.

"Will you be attending?" she asked.

"I will not.  I attended this seminar ten years ago.  It was very useful," he said.  "But I attended when I was working for another company.  It was how I met the people who hired me for this job."

She cocked her head and looked at him.  She thought he'd been with this company since college.

"Yeah," he said.  "I was fast-tracked at my former job.  The track was even faster at this one."

He stood and then she did, too.  He shook her hand.

"You're going to learn a lot," he said.  "I'm excited for you.  The dress code is business casual, plus you'll need one business suit, and a cocktail dress or more formal suit."

Then he turned and left.

She stood watching his back disappear up the hall.  She ran her mind through her closet and there was a black sheath she could tart up with some jewelry and that suit she got at the blow-it-out-the-door sale at the New York-style store in the suburbs.  She was actually okay for clothing.  She breathed a sigh of relief.

She was still looking up the hall when the back of her big boss was replaced by the advancing front of the supervisor, probably headed to the restroom.  She waved at her and the supervisor smiled and waved back.

"What are you doing over here?" the supervisor asked.

"Come in and I'll tell you," she said.

The supervisor was relaxed and calm and agreed to everything.

"I've been expecting it," the supervisor said.  "Our ex-manager was supposed to go.  Someone always drops out.  I thought you might get called for it."

"You're cool with everything?  I know you have a delicate balance going," she said.

"My mom's on vacation next week so if the babysitter can't help out, Grandma will gladly step in.  Driving is the big thing, so thanks for that."

"Thank the big boss," she said.  "He offered it all right away.  Oh, yeah, plus mileage."

"Excellent," said the supervisor.  "I feel like I'm getting the better of the deal."

"I think that was his intention," she said.  "So thank you."

She and the supervisor walked back to their side of the office.  She saw there was a party being set up in the small conference room.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"Shhh, it's a secret but Kim's boyfriend is popping the question today.  He's bringing his jeweler and everything.  He's giving her a choice of stones and settings.  The jeweler's going to have a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.  It's going to look like a birthday party for you, so act surprised," said the supervisor.

"My birthday's in three weeks," she said.

"Kim doesn't know that," said the supervisor.  "I gather this jeweler is very personable and makes a huge deal with the whole thing.  People who've seen it are just crazy to have it, too."

"That would be cool," she said.

"Say, do you mind if the jeweler comes into your office for a few minutes if he gets here early?" asked the supervisor.

"Of course," she said.

"I'll tell the receptionist," said the supervisor and went around the corner to set up.

She was working on a particularly vexing report where nothing added up when the receptionist called her to say that Conrad was in the lobby.

Her stomach went instantly to her head.

"What?" she asked.

"Conrad," said the receptionist.  Then in a whisper, "For the party."

"Oh, yeah, duh.  I'll come and get him," and she hung up and stood up and went around the long way to the reception area so no one would see her.  

Ha, ha, ha, she thought, it's not a common name but what would be the likelihood of it being the same Conrad.  A jeweler?   Nah, not the type.

She turned the corner into reception and there stood Handsome, carrying a Costco frozen food shopping bag that seemed to be stuffed.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

She Is Where, Part 31

As the Fourth of July holiday approached, she realized that she had a good strong grip on the job and was in no danger of being let go for incompetence.  The company was as crazy as any other company; she knew they could decide at any time -- be it whim, caprice, or just because -- to just close up her office but if her deparment ran well with no major errors then they might put everyone in other offices.  She might not have a job but at least her underlings would have be employed.

With her strong grip on the job came the realization that she was bored with the present state of affairs.  She'd worked too many hours these last six months and she wanted to do something that wasn't this.  Her V.P. didn't encourage her to have a balanced life; the company liked the salaried employees to work harder than was necessary.  They gave her a parking space in the building -- "This building has parking?" she'd asked. -- so there was no argument about public transportation and late hours, which she accepted gladly.   She simply wanted to have a few evenings out a month with friends.  She wanted to meet someone nice and have adult beverages, nothing too serious unless it became serious and then okay, something serious would be nice, too.  She would not have minded running into Kevin and getting another dinner invitation.

And so it was the 2nd of July and her car, her wonderful, well maintained, 15-year-old red Toyota Corolla with the sunroof, decided to break.  She got it towed to her mechanic and told him to do what he had to do and just before she went home from work that day, he'd called her.

"Hey," he said, "it's Juan.  How are you?"

"Hi, Juan," she said.  "I will be fine as soon as you tell me my car's okay.  And how are you?"

"Heh, heh," said Juan.  "I'm fine, Miss."

Juan always called her "Miss."

"So, what's the word, Juan?" she asked.

"Well, it's not so good.  Should I give you the particulars or just the bottom line?" Juan asked back.

"Bottom line, please," she said.

"Two thousand dollars, give or take a hundred," he said.  "On a 15-year-old car."

She said nothing.  She sat staring at the doorknob in her office.

"Hello, Miss?  You still there?" he asked.  "Hello?"

"I'm here, Juan," she said.

"Yeah, it looks the timing belt broke and had a field day with the engine.  I'm giving you my Good Customer Discount," he said.  "May I suggest something?"

"Yes, Juan," she said, but it sounded to her like she was listening to a tape recording of each of them talking, like she wasn't really there.

"Buy a newer used car.  Buy a new car," said Juan.  "This one's for scrap.  But I'll give you $500 for the rest of the parts and the body."

She'd been wanting to move and had been saving and thinking about where she'd live when she got comfortable enough to start looking for new places.  The bottom line on the car was this:  it was gone.  It lived a good long life and had served her well.  It was time to say goodbye and use the savings for moving and a new vehicle.

"Juan, I'll come over on Saturday and get my things from the car.  Is that okay?"

"Yes, Miss," he said.  "I'll park it inside so no one trashes it.  I'll show you what's going on with it when you come in, so you know I'm not cheating.  And I'll have a check ready for you."

"Thanks, Juan," she said.

"See you then," said Juan and they hung up.

So it was the 2nd of July, it was 6:30 p.m. and she had to take public transportation home.  She considered a cab that night but didn't feel like going to the cash machine to get money, she still had money on her transit card, so she headed over to the bus stop.

She'd been waiting about five minutes, starting at a spot on the cityscape, thinking about the book she was reading that was in her tote bag, when she realized someone was standing next to her.

"Oh, hey, hi, I thought it was you," said Kevin. 

She smiled at him. 

"Hi, Kevin, long time no see," she said.

"It's like you fell off the face of the earth," Kevin said.

"I got a promotion and I've been working long hours and driving," she told him.

"Oh, say, congrats," said Kevin.  "That's great news.  Do you like it?"

"It's good," she said.  "I have a handle on it, the client likes me, and my employees seem to mostly not hate my guts."

"Wow, that's great.  Congrats, congrats.  I don't know a lot about you but I think you'd be a reasonable boss.  Didn't you have one that was terrible?" asked Kevin.

"Yes, that's right," she said.

"You know what a crappy boss is like and know to not be one," said Kevin.  "Good for you."

"Thanks, Kevin," she said with a smile.

"So I told the wife I ran into you -- I'd told her about you before -- and she wants to have you over," he said, reaching into this inside jacket pocket.  It was 90 degrees and this immense man in a sport coat didn't look particularly overheated.  He just looked like he always looked:  a little tired, a bit rumpled, slightly confused.  He looked like Kevin.

The card said, "The House of Kevin," and gave a phone number.

She looked at Kevin with a puzzled look.

"I know, I know," said Kevin.  "And I said Conrad's a man of mystery."

She smiled.

"I'll call you, Kevin," she said.  "It'll be soon, too, because I've not been socializing and it'd be nice to be with people."

"You know I'm inviting Conrad, right?" asked Kevin.  "You do know that, yeah?"

She smiled.

"No, I didn't know that Kevin.  But I'm good with it," she said.

"Because he'd be really disappointed if you came over for lobster and he didn't," he said.

The bus was approaching.

"Here's my bus, Kevin," she said.  "I'll call you tonight when I get home.  How about that?"

"Wow, oh, great," said Kevin.  "If you get my wife, tell her who you are, that you're the lady from the train, and she'll know who you are.  She'll set everything up."

The bus came to a stop.

"Thanks, Kevin," she said.  "I look forward to it."

"Me, too.  And my wife.  But I think Conrad most," said Kevin.

They smiled and she got on the bus, taking a seat on the right side.  She waved at Kevin who waved back, then turned and walked up the street.

As the bus took its route toward her home, she realized she was very excited.  She was going to socialize with new people.  She was going to have an evening with Handsome.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

She Is Where, Part 30

June 1st came and spring turned into unrelenting heat and humidity.  She had to ask H.R. to talk to the one guy who rode his bike every day in the hot weather about sponge baths, deoderant, and offensive odors being bad for morale.  She had to address the issue of the 60-year-old, short, chubby lady who insisted on wearing low-cut tops with spaghetti straps, making the office see not just her crepey neck but her super-crepey chest and a lot of her aging breasts.

That conversation went like this:

"Really?" she asked the woman.

"It's hot out," the woman said.

"And there's no a/c in here?  Really?" she asked the woman.

"Once I get hot I stay hot," said the woman.

"Really?  Because you know there's a dress code, right?  That says 'no revealing tops on women'?" she asked the woman.

"This isn't that revealing," said the woman.

"So you concede it's somewhat revealing?" she asked the woman.

"Well, now you're being picky.  Maybe I should talk to H.R. about this," said the woman.

"Great idea.  Shall I call H.R. now?" she asked the woman.

"Yes," said the woman defiantly.

She picked up the phone and dialed a few numbers and spoke into the phone.

"Might you please come to my office?" she asked into the phone, staring at the device so she wouldn't have to look at all that flesh.  "Please bring your copy of the dress code.  Thanks."

She hung up, tilted her head and grinned at the woman, her hands folded in front of her.  Within two minutes the H.R. person, a young woman with an advanced degree in personnel management, came into the office and closed the door behind her.  Within five minutes they'd sent the lady shopping for a different blouse, telling her the time she spent would either count as her lunch or come out of her paycheck, and advised her that the next time she'd be written up and be put on disciplinary probation.

"For wearing a sleeveless top and showing  a little skin!  On a hot day!" exclaimed the woman.

"You know well that your top more than sleeveless.  We don't mind skin showing," she said, "we just don't want to see it at work."

"What about you know who, who rides his bike.  Who stinks!"  the woman exclaimed some more.

"Please concern yourself with your own situation," said the H.R. person, "and know that all things have been addressed today."

The woman stood and stomped out of her office.

She and the H.R. person looked at each other.

"Thank you," she told the H.R. person.

"This is entirely inappropriate but thank goodness you did that.  Her saggy chest area was scaring the younger employees," said H.R.  "Me included.  I bought some new bras over the weekend.  Support really is key.   And just wear a light sweater and no one would care," said H.R

"But remember last summer when someone wore tiny tops in the summer but didn't take her sweater home to wash it?" she reminded H.R.

"Oh, yeah, and we had to have the aroma chat," said H.R.  "I hated doing that one.  She's a sweet person and was so embarrassed."

"People were gagging," she said.  "As bad as Bike Guy."

"Plus Bike Guy has attitude.  He thinks he smells manly," said H.R.

"I find being neat and clean very manly," she said.  "Not hyperfussy, just neat and clean."

"My husband's hyperfussy," said H.R.  "If the fringe on the rug is slightly askew then he freaks out."

"Oh," she said, not knowing what else to say.

"Yeah, O.C.D. and proud," said H.R.  "He is otherwise very funny and sweet and kind and generous.  I can deal with the fussy."

She smiled at H.R.

"I best get back to it," she said.  "Thanks again."

"Of course," said H.R.  "It's my job."

When H.R. walked out, she stood up and walked over to the window and looked out onto the street.  It was midday, there was lots of traffic, and she saw a flesh-toned Fiat slowly creeping along the street in front of her office.  She squinted and looked harder and saw Kevin behind the wheel, alone in the car.

"Well, of course," she said.  Naturally he'd be around when she wasn't anywhere near him to do anything about it.  She looked at the building across the street, her own reflection in the windows.  Did her hair really look that bad?

She took a mirror from her drawer and looked at herself.  Yes, her hair looked terrible.  She sighed and got back to work.