This morning when I got to work, there were a dozen red roses on my desk. I’ve come to work to find a lot of crap on my desk: new work for me to do, spilled coffee, and one time a dead cockroach. But never roses. I almost burst into tears when I saw them.
“Jim was here,” Sandra told me, “obviously. I’m extremely jealous, by the way.”
The roses were beautiful. No guy had ever bought me roses before. It was really thoughtful. I found a cup of water and kept them in there for the rest of the day so they’d survive to make it home, but they were so big, I knocked them over at least five times, spilling water all over my desk. (Note to men: don’t buy a woman roses at the beginning of the work day. I forgive Jim, but that was bit of a mistake.)
And in my inbox, there was an email from Jim, asking if he could take me to lunch. I said yes, of course. We drove out to this romantic restaurant and it was amazing. I didn’t want to go back to work.
This is it, folks. I’m in love. Jim and I are going to get married and have like a dozen kids together. Remember I said it.
Today I visited the Computer Helpdesk for the first time. It was a little surreal because I’ve been calling them for years but I’ve never been there before. Jim said that he wanted to take me to lunch (again!) but he was a little tied up, so he asked if I could come meet him.
As I said, it was surreal. There were a few guys behind the counter and I was sure I’d spoken to each of them about a dozen times, but I didn’t know who was who. An Asian guy wearing a baseball cap looked up when I came in. “You need a laptop repair?” he asked me.
“Uh, no… I…”
The guy looked at my badge. “Hey, Anastasia Manousakis! I’ve talked to you a bunch of times before. It’s hard to forget a name like that. What’s the problem, Ms. Manousakis?”
I tried to ignore the fact that he was totally butchering my last name, which is par for the course. “Um, I’m here to see Jim?”
“Jim? What for?”
“We’re… uh…” I couldn’t make myself say it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes.
“Oh wait, you’re not Tessie, are you?” All the other guys looked up at the mention of my name.
For a minute, I considered lying. “Yes…”
The guy’s face lit up. “Oh man, let me get Jim. I’ll be right back.”
Great, now the computer desk guys were all going to sit around laughing about what a dog Jim was dating. Or worse, they were going to feel sorry for him that I was the only girl he could get to go out with him. I imagined them ribbing him about me, making snide comments about how my ass was too big or whatever. I wanted to hide under the table.
The guy came back out and said to me, “You can go back there, Tessie. Jim said he needs a few more minutes.”
“Okay, thanks.” I wondered what Jim had said to the other guys about me. What the hell did guys talk about anyway?
I expected the back office to be some mythical place with dragons and unicorns, but it was more like a dank pit. Well, it wasn’t dank because they needed to keep it cool for the computers, but it was definitely kind of a pit. Jim was at a computer in the far side of the room, his eyes staring at the screen through his glasses. His hands were poised over the keyboard—he told me he typed with two fingers. Of the four guys in the room, he was the best looking by far. In fact, he was the only one who wasn’t totally disgusting. He glanced up when I came in and smiled at me. “Hi, Tessie,” he said. “I’m so sorry I got held up. I’ll just be two more minutes, I promise.”
I sat down next to him and he leaned forward and kissed me, right in front of everyone. He didn’t seem embarrassed about it at all, but I immediately glanced at the other guys. My bet was that they’d pity Jim for dating me. Poor guy in the wheelchair, can’t get anyone but that ugly dog.
I brought it up to him casually at lunch, whether the other guys knew about the two of us. He said they did. “What do they, um, think?” I asked.
Jim grinned. “What do you think they think? I’m, like, their hero. None of those guys can get a girlfriend to save their lives, much less one as sexy as you.”
I blushed. “I’m not…”
He raised his eyebrows. “You don’t think you’re sexy? Come on, Tess. You’ve got to be kidding me. You’re the sexiest woman in this room.”
I wasn’t the sexiest woman in the room. And I don’t think there was any way that Jim could possibly have thought that I was the sexiest woman in that room, no matter how much he liked me. It was just… patronizing. Mostly I loved everything Jim said to me, but I didn’t love it when he said things like that. It made me uncomfortable because it felt like a lie.
But I didn’t want to say any of that to Jim because I figure if I point out that I’m not pretty or sexy, he’ll realize it’s not true. I spent the rest of the day scared that his buddies at work were going to say something to him and he was going to decide I wasn’t as great as he thought I was. But I called him before leaving for the day and he sounded just as friendly as always, so who knows.
I got to see Jim’s apartment today. I don’t think there’s any chance he’s going to ever see mine, considering how many stairs there are to get in. Jim can handle jumping over one small step, but he said even that is pretty hard for him since he doesn’t have much strength in his hands. Also, he uses these power assist wheels that give him a little help with turning and he says they’re pretty heavy. So unless they install an elevator in my brownstone, it’s not going to happen. Jim kind of played it down, but I think he was a little frustrated. I’m definitely frustrated.
But anyway, Jim’s apartment was amazing. He must be making a lot of money, because it is a nice place. He has a bedroom and then a whole other room to use as an office. The furniture was simple but very stylish. He’s on the 15th floor and has an incredible view. I couldn’t stop staring out the window. “I love your apartment,” I told him. “You just need some carpeting to bring it together.”
Jim shook his head. “Nuh uh. Do you know how hard it is to wheel on carpeting?”
Oh. I never think of stuff like that.
The reason I wanted to come to Jim’s apartment was that I was going to cook him dinner. I’m not the world’s most amazing cook or anything, but we had eaten like every meal out and he never lets me pay, so I wanted to do something for him. I brought a bag of groceries with me and intended to make him some chicken and vegetable pasta. Jim made a big deal out of it, like I was the sweetest person in the world for wanting to make him dinner.
Jim’s kitchen was pristine. He told me he hires someone to clean, but also that he never cooks short of using the microwave. I don’t think my kitchen looked this good the day I first moved in. I felt sort of bad getting it dirty.
I started out chopping vegetables and Jim went in the other room. Maybe I was nervous or something (and his knives were ridiculously sharp) because within thirty seconds, I had sliced my finger. I held it under cold water, wincing at the pain and that annoying sliced-open-finger feeling. It occurred to me that if Jim sliced his finger, he wouldn’t even feel it.
The phone rang and I yelled out to Jim. “Let the machine get it!” he yelled back. Like me, I think he took most of his important calls on his cell phone. I didn’t even realize he had a landline.
As I held pressure on my finger with a piece of paper towel, I heard a woman’s voice come from the answering machine: “Hi, Jim? It’s me. I know you’re screening my calls on your cell phone, but I really need to talk to you. Please, Jim. Please, just give me five minutes to talk to you. I know you’re angry at me, but this isn’t fair. I—”
Jim heard the voice from the other room and was racing out to get the phone. I’d never seen him wheel that fast. He tried to grab the phone, but he had to fumble with his hands, more than I’d ever seen him fumble before. His face was bright red. He wasn’t looking at me as he spoke into the phone. “Molly,” he said in a low voice. I’d never heard him sound so angry. He was usually so cool and collected. “I don’t want you to call here again. No, I……. stop. Stop calling me. Yeah…… well, I’m going to change the number. Yeah, I don’t want to see you…… fine, please don’t call again.”
He hung up the phone, looking as upset as I’d ever seen him. “Who’s Molly?” I asked, trying to sound all casual.
“Nobody,” he said.
I looked at him.
He sighed. “She’s my ex-girlfriend. It didn’t end well.”
“You don’t want to hear this story, Tessie,” he said.
“I thought we were being honest with each other.”
He sighed again. “Fine. We were dating about a year and a half, and… I asked her to move in with me. She told me she didn’t see our relationship being a long term thing and admitted she was seeing someone else. I felt like an idiot. That was six months ago and I’m over it. End of story.”
“Were you in love with her?” I don’t know why I asked that.
He shrugged. “I thought I was, but clearly I was mistaken. I’m definitely not in love with her now. In fact, I don’t want to see her ever again.” He looked at me. “What happened to your finger?”
“Nice job changing the subject.”
“Tessie, you’re dripping blood all over my freaking counter!”
I looked down and saw that he was right. The cut was worse than I thought. Jim tried to persuade me to go to the ER to get it stitched up, but I thought he was overreacting. After holding pressure on it for a while, the bleeding stopped and he got me his first aid kit so that I could bandage it up. We ended up ordering out Chinese food, then we made out on his couch. It was awesome.
I guess I haven’t talked much about my job and there’s a reason for that: my job is ridiculously boring. You know it’s bad when the person actually doing the job day in and day out doesn’t want to talk about it ever. Why don’t I quit? Well, it’s pretty easy and it pays well. Also, I just don’t see myself going out and doing something super exciting, like, I don’t know, becoming a professional scuba diver. I can pay my rent and that’s good enough.
So as I said, my job is usually pretty laid back, except when it isn’t. Like this week. My boss Rich has been leaning on me for the last few days, pushing me to get him some numbers. I’ve eaten lunch at my desk and stayed late the last two days, trying to get things done. I think I’m good at what I do, but I’m not particularly fast.
Jim emailed me the last two days, asking if I could get lunch with him, and I’ve had to beg off, explaining about the workload. He said he missed me, but he understood. Then today he didn’t email me and I felt a little sad, like maybe he’d given up on me. Then at noon, he showed up at my cubicle. “I’m taking you to lunch,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
I wanted to go to lunch with him more than anything. He looked adorable today, even more so than usual, maybe because I hadn’t seen him much lately. I think we’re still at that phase in the relationship where just looking at him makes me tingle. He was wearing this slightly wrinkled blue shirt that brought out the color in his eyes, even behind his glasses. He wasn’t wearing a tie, as usual, and his top button was open, so I could see the tiniest hint of chest hair. It was really sexy. God, I wanted to see his chest. I hadn’t gone there yet, but I thought about it as I ran my hands over the fabric of his shirt. I could tell he wasn’t muscular under there and he once told me kind of apologetically that he didn’t have much muscle tone due to the paralysis, but it was still sexy because it was Jim.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I can’t.” I gestured helplessly at my computer.
He frowned. “You can’t take half an hour break the whole day?”
“Rich is going to freak out,” I said.
In fact, I was nervous that Rich was going to see Jim at my cubicle and start prematurely freaking out. He had been hovering over me all damn day.
Sure enough, within 30 seconds, Rich was racing over, looking very pale (and bald). He looked like he was about to drop dead of a coronary. I guess he was under a lot of pressure.
“Hi, Jim,” he said. He was trying to play it casual. “How are you doing?”
Maybe it was my imagination, but I think Rich always seemed a little patronizing in his interactions with Jim. Jim always seemed mildly annoyed, but took it better than I probably would have.
“I’m fine, Rich,” Jim said, using the same mildly patronizing tone. “How are you?”
“Been better,” Rich replied. He turned his attention to me. “What’s going on, Tessie? Is your computer broken?”
Right, because why else would Jim Matchett, the computer expert, be at my cubicle? “No,” I said.
“Oh,” Rich said. “Good.” He hovered there, waiting for me to answer his next, unspoken question: so why the hell was Jim at my desk?
Both men were staring at me, waiting for an answer. I think the whole office was staring at me. I wracked my brain, trying to think of a plausible excuse. Maybe he was here because he owed me money for Bess’s baby shower gift? No, he’s a man. Maybe he and I were on competing softball teams and he was here to arrange a time for the next game? Totally, Tess. Good one. “Um,” I said brilliantly. Hey, I’m an actuary, we don’t think fast on our feet.
“Actually,” Jim said, “I’m here to take Tessie out to lunch. Do you think you can spare her for half an hour?”
Rich looked so confused, I almost laughed through my terror. His brows knitted together, trying to figure this one out. He’s kind of slow. But not that slow. “Oh! Um, yes, of course, Jim. Just try to bring her back in one piece.”
I could have crawled under my desk. Rich didn’t even look as surprised as he could have. The ugliest girl in the office was going out with the crippled guy… guess it made some sense.
I tried not to be, but I was pissed at Jim. Now everyone in the office, including my boss, knew that we were dating. Maybe I don’t think fast on my feet, but Jim does. He could have come up with some reasonable excuse for why he was at my cubicle. He didn’t even try.
Once I was angry, it felt like everything he did was pissing me off. Like why did he always bring me to the same restaurant for lunch? Okay, maybe it was the closest one to work and it was very accessible, which is important, but it was too early in our relationship to be so monotonous. And we’d have a lot more time for lunch if he didn’t take so damn long to transfer in and out of his car. Well, I guess he was pretty fast at it, considering he couldn’t use his hands. But it takes me like five seconds to get out of the car and it takes him at least… two minutes.
By the time we were in the restaurant, I was good and angry. Jim was trying to make conversation, but I was answering in monosyllables and mostly looking down at my menu. Finally, Jim said, “Okay, Tessie, what’s wrong?”
“Then why are you sulking?”
“I’m not sulking,” I said sulkily.
“Look,” he sighed. “You know me by now, Tessie. I don’t like to play games. Some guys will mess around with you but that’s not me. I’ve been straight with you from the beginning. I like you and I tell you that. And I got the felling you weren’t the kind of woman who likes to play games. So why don’t we be the kind of couple that doesn’t play games with each other and actually says when something’s wrong so we can talk about it?”
“Okay,” I said. He was right. I didn’t like games either. I appreciated the fact that he was always so straightforward with me.
“So what’s wrong?”
“I just…” I felt stupid now, telling him this. “Why did you have to tell my boss we were dating?”
Jim frowned. “People from the company are allowed to date.”
“I know, but…” I was blushing now. “Why does everyone have to know?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Are you embarrassed to be dating me?”
He didn’t sound angry when he said it, just a little hurt. I immediately felt awful. I wasn’t embarrassed about him at all. Just the opposite. I feel like people like me are supposed to keep my private life private. Nobody wants to picture that stuff. “No!” I said.
“I didn’t, I swear.”
“Tess, we’re two adults,” he said. “We’re in a relationship. It’s not a big deal. It’s not something we need to keep secret.”
“I guess so,” I said. He was right. I guess he had more relationship experience, between the two of us. I’d never had any relationships lasting close to a year and a half. Or even longer than a few months.
“You know I told everyone at the computer desk about you,” he reminded me. “And I told my parents.”
“You told your parents?” I was totally shocked by that revelation. I mean, I tell my mother about almost every date I have, but men aren’t like that. Usually they get around to telling their parents about their girlfriend sometime while they’re walking down the aisle. Sandra told me she didn’t even meet her husband’s parents till they were dating for a year and she suspected they didn’t know about her until about a week before that.
Jim turned a little red as he tried to play it down. “Well, I talk to my mother every week and she usually asks me if I’m dating someone before she even says hello. So… I told her about you.”
“Wow, that’s really sweet,” I said. He looked relieved. “What did you tell her about me?”
Jim grinned. “I told her that I’m dating an incredibly sexy Greek girl with a horrible job.”
“Well, you told her one true thing, at least.”
“You’re right, your job’s not that horrible,” he said, leaning forward as he teased me. When he was so close, I could smell his cologne. I love that smell. It always turns me on like crazy. “So did you tell your parents about me?”
“Yes,” I lied. Mama Manousakis was not ready to hear about my quadriplegic boyfriend, but Jim didn’t need to know about that.
The lie seemed to make him happy though. He leaned forward and kissed me, right in front of the whole restaurant. He never seems to care who sees us together. “I want you to meet some of my friends,” he said. “I want to show you off.”
“All right,” I said.
“And I want to meet your friends too,” he said.
“You met Sandra,” I said.
He rolled his eyes. “I mean, your other friends.”
I mumbled something in agreement, not wanting to admit that most of the women I’d been friends with had gotten married and I always felt like I third wheel when I hung out with them. Jim wouldn’t have understood that. I didn’t want to burst his bubble. For reasons that I can’t quite wrap my head around, he actually seems really proud to be dating me. He always treats me like I’m gorgeous and it doesn’t even bother me so much anymore because he honestly seems to believe it. If he keeps up this behavior, I might stop thinking I look like the bride of Frankenstein’s ugly sister.
To be continued...