His name was Rick. He was a classic middle-aged man with a homely wife and a beautiful teenage daughter and they all lived in an established historic neighborhood in a remodeled ranch home. As his income and stability grew, he cultivated a palate for the finer things in life, and he began to pay attention to nice meals and refinishing his hardwood floors and buying the right smoker. He made enough money to buy fine wines and steaks and would cook for his family every night. He had begun to watch his attractiveness (what there was of it) wane and he anxiously looked for something to save him.
She was young, fresh out of college and naive and unsure of her place in the world. With pillowy lips and a nubile, overly fleshed-out body, it was the epitome of femininity that frightens younger men and fills older ones with a raging lust to pillage and rape.
They were assigned to work together on long, tedious video projects. This involved long hours of sitting in a dark studio, hunched over a computer side by side, staring at a glowing screen and laughing at the canned royalty-free music they would use as the soundtrack.
Soon he began stopping by her desk every day. Morning, noon, and on his way home. He’d stop by to say hi and wouldn’t leave. First discussing work, then lunch plans, then his personal life. His gripes about his wife were endless and sad. “I made this fantastic filet mignon and she wanted me to cook it well done!” he’d exclaim disgustedly, shaking his head. She would nod her head sympathetically, praying he’d go back to her desk so she could check her Facebook.
To save money, and because she didn’t have a lot of friends at her new job, they began eating lunch together in the break room. Watching reruns of The Daily Show, she’d try not to be irritated by his high-pitched giggle at Jon Stewart’s Sarah Palin jokes. Often he’d offer her leftovers from his family meal the night before: homemade jambalaya, fresh cherries, roasted asparagus.
They began to travel for work together, spending weekends in a Ramada Inn and countless airports. With the company’s expense account, going out to dinner was easy. Happy hour was followed by a cab ride to the expensive steakhouse in Kansas City or Baltimore or Lubbock, a bottle of wine, a shared dessert. There were countless nights of sitting at hotel bars eating mixed nuts and drinking cheap Australian Shiraz and knowing she should call it a night and go watch HBO in her room, but she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. She had been raised a good Southern girl who smiled and nodded and didn’t make a fuss.
She recalls an evening in Las Vegas, dressing alone in her hotel room, getting ready to go out to dinner with Rick yet again. Looking in the mirror, she sees the black lace top and the too-tight pants and wonders if this is what her 25-year-old life is turning into: pseudo-dates with a married coworker on a Friday night at the Mandalay Bay casino.
Weeks turned into months turned into years. She would go to his cubicle and confess that she hated her life, the city, her job. He would awkwardly console her, offer options, and fervently hope she would never leave. But one day she did. He introduced her to his friend in HR and she cried (for the fifteenth time that month) on a hard office couch and told them she wanted to leave and she was sorry but she couldn’t do it anymore.
He walked her to her car after work, carrying her box of stuff, and said something that would haunt her forever: “A blind man can see how much I love you.”
She had thought they were just friends. Surely it was obvious that her attractive quotient outweighed his by many, many points. Plus, he was married. And had a daughter and a house and could retire in five years. Plus, he was old. And short. And had that middle-aged paunch that would never disappear and wore cargo shorts with a cell phone clipped on the side. When he turned 40 he had bought a Mini Cooper to reclaim that last glimmer of youth and sex appeal and he would always park next to her.
She took the box from him and hurriedly put it in her car, bumping her head on the roof. She knew she needed to leave now, right now, before something terrible happened. If he tried to touch her or kiss her, her first reaction would be to recoil in disgust, maybe even scream, but she couldn’t hurt his feelings like that.
They awkwardly hugged and she bowed her body out so her breasts wouldn’t press against him. Without looking him in the eyes, she attempted a bright, “I’ll see you soon! Okay? Thanks…you know. Thanks for everything! Bye!”
She hurled her body in the car and started the engine, refusing to look at the man in her peripheral vision. He stood there, two feet away, dejected, staring hard at her.
She pressed the gas and tore out of the parking lot, giving a half-hearted wave as she turned the corner. She was a good girl, she hadn’t done anything wrong, she had always been nice, and smiling, and a good listener, and sympathetic, and look where it had gotten her.