I daringly show up at Luke’s office at exactly noon the next day. Well, it’s more like 11:59. As I pass his secretary Michelle’s desk and she waves me in, she gets this grin on her face that I can’t quite read. Oh god, she doesn’t think we’re sleeping together too, does she?
When I enter Luke’s office, he’s hard at work on his computer. I remember how deeply tanned he used to be in college (from all those summers in Greece) with his dark hair highlighted with gold from the sun… but now he’s bordering on pale. “Hi, Ellie,” he says. “What’s wrong?”
“I was just wondering,” I say, “do you ever go to Greece anymore?”
The way Luke looks at me blankly pretty much gives me my answer. “Oh god,” he groans. “I haven’t been there in years. How did you know about that?”
“You mentioned on the first day of expos that your family had a villa there,” I remind him, putting emphasis on the word “villa.”
“Did I?” He grins. “Wow, I was such a pretentious prick. No wonder you wouldn’t hook up with me. Anyway, it’s more like a house than a villa. I don’t even know what the hell a villa is… I was probably just trying to impress everyone.”
“Why don’t you go there anymore?”
“No time,” he says with a shrug. “Anyway, I try not to fly any more than I absolutely have to… I end up getting shuffled around like a piece of luggage at the airport. And the beaches are a bitch to wheel around.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “Hey, I always wondered: are you really fluent in French, Greek, and German?”
“What, you think I was a liar too?” he laughs. “Yeah, I’m fluent.”
“Say something in French.”
He thinks for a minute. “Je ne veux pas être votre ami.”
“What does that mean?”
He smiles. “It means, ‘I value your friendship.’”
“Aw,” I say.
“So what languages do you speak?”
“Oh, lots,” I reply. “C, C++, Lisp, Perl, FORTRAN…”
“I get it, those are computer languages.”
Luke grins. “Still a nerd.”
Our eyes meet and my tummy inexplicably does a little flip-flop. I’m immediately surprised at myself. Luke wasn’t my type 15 years ago and he’s even less my type now. Yet… well, I don’t know. It’s weird. There’s just something about him.
At that moment, Michelle interrupts us with a big brown bag of Chinese food. I skipped breakfast this morning and the smell is so unbelievable that I practically claw the bag open. There are paper plates inside and Luke tells me not to worry about it and I’m allowed to eat on his ridiculously expensive mahogany desk. I dig into my chicken with broccoli and practically moan in ecstasy. We’re right near Chinatown so there’s a lot of good Chinese food in the financial district, but this is the best I’ve ever had by a mile. “Oh my god,” I say. “Where did you get this Chinese food?”
“It’s a secret.”
“Are you serious?”
Luke nods. “It’s like crack. If this is the only place you can get it, you’ll have to come back.”
“I have to come back anyway,” I point out. “You’re my boss.”
Luke still won’t tell me where he ordered this food. Maybe I can bribe Michelle to tell me.
“All right,” he says. “We better get some work done, or else everyone is going to think you’re coming here to have sex to save your job.”
My face turns a little red. I had no idea that Luke guessed what people were saying to me. “They’re going to think that anyway.”
“Screw ‘em,” I say. “Does everyone think that about you too?”
“Well, yeah,” he says. “But it’s not as much of an insult when they say it to me.”
I’m not entirely sure about that, but I don’t argue the point. Luke turns to his computer and brings up a page of notes that he made. I’m actually amazed that he really was listening to everything that I said yesterday. I watch his hand on the mouse and notice that he uses the palm his hand to move the cursor and clicks with his thumb. We talk and he types in my thoughts using just his index fingers.
“Thanks for your help, Ellie,” he says after nearly an hour has gone by.
“My pleasure,” I say, yawning because I’ve eaten way too much. Sometimes I wish this country would institute siestas.
“Same time tomorrow?”
“Sure!” I say with enthusiasm that embarrasses me. I clear my throat and try to look less enthusiastic.
Of course, I’m not excited because of Luke or anything. He has absolutely nothing to do with it. What I’m thrilled about is that after years of labor, someone is actually listening to my ideas. I feel important. Maybe I can help save some of my colleagues’ jobs.
Every day over the next two weeks, I end up in Luke’s office for lunch. We do talk about work a lot, but it seems like every day we end up socializing more and more. By the end of the second week, we probably spent about five minutes total on work.
I’m not even sure what we talk about exactly. Sometimes we talk about people we both knew at Harvard… I wouldn’t use the word “mutual friends” because I don’t think any people like that existed. We hung around in very different crowds. We had a large class of about 1500 people, but there were still several people that we both knew. “What happened to that roommate of yours?” Luke asked me. “The one with the lips. Daphne?”
“Delia?” I don’t know what he was talking about with “the lips.” Men notice the oddest things.
“She does family practice in Idaho,” I told her. “She’s married and has two kids.”
“Idaho?” Luke crinkled his nose, which I have to admit, is the same look I gave her when she told me she was moving there.
“I know,” I said.
“And what about that boyfriend of yours?” Luke asked.
I didn’t know Luke was even paying attention to me at the point that I started dating Noah. I met him in one of my complex analysis class during junior year: Noah Weinstein, God of Mathematics. Above all, I respected intelligence back then. I ogled smart men like other women ogled movie stars. If it were socially acceptable to have a pin-up of Albert Einstein, then… well, I probably still wouldn’t have, but you get the idea. In retrospect, the way Noah spouted out answers in our math section was not entirely different than the way Luke mouthed off his opinions in our expos class, but somehow I found myself in awe of Noah’s brilliance.
It was good between Noah and me in the beginning. I was his first girlfriend and he was grateful just to have me and to be getting laid. But eventually, his arrogance seeped through and I could tell he thought he was destined for greater things than little old me.
“I don’t know,” I said. “He got some scholarship in England and that’s the last I heard of him.”
“What an idiot,” Luke commented.
“He wasn’t an idiot,” I said quietly. “He was brilliant.”
“Well, he was definitely extremely ugly,” Luke said.
I started laughing. With his stick-like frame and blazing red hair and freckles, Noah wasn’t anybody’s conception of handsome, especially compared with Luke. “Okay, he wasn’t Brad Pitt or anything, but…”
“Oh, come on,” Luke said. “You probably never saw him again because they captured him and put him on display in the zoo.”
I was laughing hard enough now that there were a few tears in my eyes. “Stop…”
“Seriously, I couldn’t believe you picked that guy over me.” Luke shook his head. “Talk about blows to the old self-esteem…”
“And what about that blonde cheerleader type from Wellesley you were sucking face with through all of senior year?” I reminded him, wiping my eyes.
“Margo?” He shook his head. “She decided to believe the doctors who said I wasn’t going to walk again, and she took off.”
I stared at him, the smile gone from my face. “Oh my god, Luke, I’m so sorry…”
“Don’t be.” He shrugged. “It wasn’t true love. If she got in some disfiguring accident, I would have dumped her just as fast.”
I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Luke is nowhere near as shallow as I thought he was. After all, he liked me.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had hooked up with Luke that night in college. Maybe we would have dated a few months, but I can’t believe it would have gone any further than that. We were just too different. We still are, yet… well, he’s not quite as awful as I thought he was. Maybe.
As many times as I’ve tried to explain to my mother that there’s nothing wrong with being 32, female, and single in this day and age, she just doesn’t seem to get it. She thinks it’s like back in her day, where if you didn’t get married by 22, you were an old maid. Old maids don’t even exist anymore. We’re career women.
“Career women,” my mother scoffs when I try to tell her this on the phone during our weekly Sunday evening call. “What a load of… excuse me, Ellie, but what a load of horseshit.”
Yes, my mother says the word “horseshit.” Yes, I’m horrified.
“By your age,” she goes on, “I already had you and your sisters. And Ramona was already…”
Oh god, now she’s talking about my older sisters. They both got married at age 25 and proceeded to shoot out a bunch of kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love my nieces and nephews, but the whole thing makes me look bad.
“I’m just not ready, Mom,” I try to tell her.
“Isn’t there anyone?” Mom asks me. “Are you dating someone?”
I don’t know why, but somehow Luke’s face pops into my head. But I’m not dating him and I never will be. Most certainly not.
“Nobody,” I say.
“This isn’t normal, Ellie,” she says. “A woman your age shouldn’t just be single.”
Can I just say that this is SUCH a double standard? If I were a man, it wouldn’t be any problem that I’m single. She’d be telling me to be picky and not to marry the first girl who sunk her claws into me. But because I’m a woman, I’m not allowed to be picky. I must be dating someone, no matter how vile he might be.
“When I meet someone I like,” I say, “then I’ll go out with him.” Provided he likes me back, of course.
My mother sighs loudly. I feel kind of sorry for her sometimes. It’s like she can’t settle down till I’ve tied the knot, to the point where if she died, I’m pretty sure her ghost would haunt me till my wedding day. It doesn’t bother me nearly as much.
As we’re finishing up the last of our Subway sandwiches on Friday, Luke gives me a look like he wants to say something. He hooks his thumb into his tie and loosens it slightly, all the while glancing up at me nervously. Also, he keeps shifting in his wheelchair, which is something he does a lot, but he’s doing it a lot more right now. Somehow I think again of his ramrod straight posture in college. “Um,” he finally says. “I was wondering if you could do me a favor, Ellie.”
I never agree to a favor without knowing what it is, especially from a guy like Luke. “What is it?”
“There’s this thing tomorrow…” He gives me a pained look. “It’s at an art gallery near Newton, a new exhibit opening, whatever. Really boring. Anyway, I said I’d be there. And… I was just thinking… maybe you’d be willing to… go with me?” He quickly amends, “As a work acquaintance.”
“Oh.” I bite my lip. I don’t want to go. Yet, I also sort of do. “What about Michelle? Can’t you go with her?”
Luke shakes his head. “Nuh uh. If I go with Michelle, everyone will be thinking I’m some dirty old man boinking my hot young secretary.”
“So if I go, nobody will think you’re boinking me?”
I’ve never been at a fancy artsy event before. It doesn’t really sound like my cup of tea, but then again, Luke is giving me this desperate look. I’ve had a lot of fun hanging out with him the last two weeks, so maybe we’ll have fun together.
“All right,” I agree.
His eyes light up.
I quickly add, “Platonic, right?”
“Of course,” Luke says, as if I asked a preposterous question.
I go out to dinner with Jenna that night, mostly reassure her that her job is safe and the sky isn’t going to come crashing down on her any time soon. We get dinner at a local bar and Jenna bemoans the fact that men never buy her drinks anymore. “I’m getting too old,” she sniffles.
“Oh, stop it,” I say. Jenna is two years younger than me.
“So,” she says, “how is Luke Thayer in bed?”
“Jenna!” I roll my eyes. “Come on…”
“Well, I don’t mean ‘in bed’,” she corrects herself, grinning. “Because obviously it happens in his office. But you know what I mean.”
“Nothing happens,” I insist. “And nothing’s going to happen. Luke just wants my help with the company.”
“Look, you don’t need to be embarrassed,” Jenna says. “I mean, I know he’s in the wheelchair, but he’s not entirely grotesque. His face is cute, at least.”
“Jenna,” I groan.
“How does that work anyway?” she asks. “Do you guys do it in his chair?”
“No!” I cry. “We don’t do it anywhere! I repeat, I’m not having sex with him. Come on, you know me.”
Jenna blinks. “Okay, fine.” She runs a hand through her hair. Jenna has red hair that she completely hates but I think is very pretty. “So what are you up tomorrow? Do you want to catch a movie?”
“I can’t,” I mumble. “I’m going to this… art… thing.”
Jenna’s eyes widen. “Oh my god, are you going to the opening of the new exhibit in Newton?”
How the hell does she know about these things? “Um, yeah.”
“Who are you going with?” Her eyes narrow.
She’s got me. My face is scarlet. “Luke.” I quickly add, “As friends.”
Jenna looks at me a lot time. She takes a sip of her beer. “Really, Ellie, what’s going on? I believe you that you’re not sleeping with him, but… do you like him?”
I don’t like Luke. He’s disagreeable, to put it mildly. He’s a rich, arrogant, cold, heartless businessman. The only reason I’m spending any time with him at all is for the good of the company. I certainly am not thinking about him at all in a romantic way. Even if I were looking for a boyfriend now, which I’m not, the last person I would pick would be Luke. And yes, he does smell nice sometimes, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m certainly not spending any time whatsoever fantasizing about him.
“You do!” Jenna cries, her eyes widening. “You do! You like him!”
“No, I don’t,” I mumble. “I just… think he’s sort of interesting. That’s all.”
“Well, he’s available, right?” she asks. “I mean, he’s got to be single.”
Everybody seemed to make that assumption about Luke. And I suppose they’re right. “Yeah, he is,” I confirm. “But he’s not for me. He’s not my type at all.”
“Hey, it can’t be too bad having a rich boyfriend,” she points out. “I bet he’d buy you lots of expensive things.”
“Because I love expensive things, right?” I laugh. I’m the kind of girl who buys most of my furniture at Ikea.
The more Jenna and I drink, the more I start thinking about Luke. I don’t know what’s wrong with me sometimes. Luke is absolutely not for me. That’s one thing I’m 100% sure of.
To be continued....