The Office Party
Confessions

The Office Party

By Madeleine Cain

 

Every day, Geraldine watched the clock. She watched it like a kid sitting on the front steps watches for the ice cream truck. She wasn't the only one, but most of her co-workers were waiting for lunchtime, and then they were waiting for quitting time. Not Geraldine. She was waiting for 10:20 a.m. and 3:45 p.m., because every day at those times, Douglas walked by her desk on his way to get a cup of coffee. A lot of people walked by Geraldine's desk on their way to get coffee, even though her little corner of the world was not on the most direct route to the lounge. It was, however, right next to the big picture window that overlooked the lake.

So each day, Geraldine waited for Douglas to walk by. He was always so prompt, and not just about the coffee. He arrived at the same time every day, took lunch at the same time and for the same duration, and left at the same time. Douglas seemed to be a creature of habit, and in that Geraldine recognized a kindred spirit.

He's so handsome. He seems so nice, too. Smiles and says hello when he walks by, and he always brings back a cup of coffee for his cubicle-mate on the afternoon trip.

Geraldine perked up. It was 10:19 a.m. She straightened in her chair and tried to look busy and important. She glanced at her reflection in the window, and then polished her glasses on the hem of her shirt.

Darn glasses. He probably thinks I'm just another nerdy girl with a ponytail and horn-rims.

Geraldine usually liked her glasses just fine, but on occasion – whenever Douglas walked by her desk, for instance – she secretly wished she could do without them.

Right on schedule, she heard his footsteps approaching, briefly marveling that she could recognize him by his stride. She focused on her monitor until he drew even with her desk, then glanced up and gave him what she hoped was a nice, pleasant, not-at-all-stalkerish smile.

He smiled back. "Morning, Gerry," he said, and he passed on by.

Gerry. He's the only one who calls me Gerry. No one knew that she loved being called Gerry, but somehow he'd started doing so all on his own.

Geraldine sighed, resetting her internal clock for 3:45.

Before he got up from his desk to get his morning cup of coffee, Douglas adjusted his tie and checked his teeth for unauthorized food particles. This was as much a part of his routine as the coffee run itself; he did it even when she was not in the office, and he had no reason to make sure he looked his best.

She was always busy, sitting straight-backed at her station, focused on her work. She gave him a polite smile as he passed, and every day he told himself he'd say more than "Morning, Gerry," but every day he walked on by without doing so.

She's so intellectual in those Tina Fey glasses and her no-nonsense braided hair. She probably thinks I'm just another dumb jock, like the rest of the yahoos in suits that are so thick on the ground around here.

She had a calendar of postmodern artists on the wall of her cubicle. An Albert Einstein finger puppet sat on top of her monitor, next to a bendable Frodo Baggins figurine who appeared to be disco-dancing. Rosie the Riveter watched over the printer from a tin sign, flexing her bicep and reassuring passersby that "We Can Do It!" Every day he seemed to notice something else, another tiny bit of personality with which she'd chosen to accessorize her workspace, a new clue that further convinced him that this was his dream woman.

Except she's going to want some guy who reads Sartre and will take her to see The Magnetic Fields, while they listen to the From Dawn to Decadence audiobook in the car. I'm just a regular guy who plays bass in a bar band and likes Babylon 5.

She looked cute today, too. She was wearing one of those tiny sweater shrugs, and it was fuzzy in a way that made him think of Tribbles. She didn't give any sign that she heard him coming, but as he drew near, she looked up and gave him that same polite smile. "Morning, Gerry, he said. Will you go out with me? We could watch Lord of the Rings and talk about what in the world "postmodern" means, anyway.

He passed on by, just like every other day, and just like every other day, he shook his head at his own cowardice as he continued on to the lounge.

"I'm really going to do it this time," Geraldine said, holding up one dress after another for the thumbs-up or thumbs-down from her roommate RuthEllen. "I'm going to talk to Douglas tonight."

"You've said that before every office party you've ever gone to, and look where we are," RuthEllen said. "No, not that one. Are you crazy?"

Geraldine put aside the denim jumper and pulled out the slinkiest dress she owned, which was still fairly modest by most standards. "This one?"

RuthEllen cocked her head. "Put it on." Geraldine took off her robe and slipped into the deep red wrap dress. "Yeah. That one."

Geraldine looked at herself in the mirror. "I like the dress, but… I wish I didn't have to wear my glasses."

"You don't have to."

"Well, I think that bumping into things might be at odds with the image I'm trying to project."

"Come on, you still have some of those disposable contacts from the last time you tried."

"That was a disaster."

"That was your own fault," RuthEllen said. "You remember that cruddy off-brand contact solution you were using? Val-U-Lens or something? Where'd you get that stuff anyway?"

"It was a perfectly respectable gas station slash pharmacy," Geraldine joked.

"Well, whatever. I've got an unopened bottle of OPTI-FREE® RepleniSH® contact lens solution you can have. You'll look great, and the last thing on your mind will be your contacts."

Geraldine plucked the glasses off her face and looked at them. "Maybe you're right." She smiled at RuthEllen in the mirror. "I won't be the same girl, just for tonight."

Douglas tried the black jacket first, then the brown corduroy. I'm going to talk to her tonight.

She won't give me the time of day. Steve Johnson tried to ask her out, and she smacked him down but good.

C'mon, what are you, some kind of chicken? Man up and do it.

Douglas stared at himself in the mirror. Maybe I can give myself a little bit of an edge. Show some solidarity. He reached up and popped out his contacts, then fished out his nicest pair of glasses, tortoiseshell horn-rims. He put them on and checked his reflection again. Do I look intellectual? Or like some sort of poseur?

He sighed. Well, at least it could be a conversation-starter.

Geraldine stood at the table where the buffet had been spread out, examining the mushroom puffs. RuthEllen had been right about the OPTI-FREE® RepleniSH®; Geraldine's contacts felt much more comfortable. Too bad she didn't feel the same way herself. She didn't really have any close friends at work; she was a social person, but not much of a joiner at the office. Her one girlfriend from work, with whom she occasionally chatted when things were slow, had stayed home with a sick toddler, so she was just biding her time and waiting for Douglas to arrive. Then she could get it over with. Ask him out, be rejected, and go home.

The mushroom puffs were quite tasty, actually.

She turned around to survey the crowd again and nearly jumped out of her skin to see Douglas standing right behind her, his mouth open and one hand raised like he'd been about to touch her shoulder. "Oh," she said. "Hi." Lame.

"Hi," he said.

He's wearing glasses. He's never worn glasses before.

She isn't wearing glasses. That's new.

Geraldine was staring at him like she'd never seen him before. "Hi," he said. Great opener, loser. She was holding a half-eaten mushroom puff in one hand. "How are those mushroom puffs?" With supreme effort, he managed to suppress an eye-roll at his own banality.

She looked down at her hand, as if surprised to find herself holding the puff. "Oh! Uh… they're great." She smiled, but it wasn't her usual polite smile. This was a slanty little smirk that looked like she knew something he didn't. "You're wearing glasses," she said.

He lifted one hand to adjust them. "Yeah. Just… trying something different." He cocked his head to one side. "Looks like I'm not the only one."

Incredibly, she blushed. "I never wear my contacts."

"You look nice. But… I like your glasses."

"You do?" she said, a shy smile starting at the corners of her mouth.

"Yeah."

"Well… I like your glasses, too. But I'm so used to seeing you without them."

Douglas met her eyes, and he saw the exact moment when they both realized what they'd done. Geraldine burst into laughter, bright peals like bells ringing. "Oh no, you are kidding me," she said.

He laughed with her. "I thought they'd make me look more intellectual, like you."

"And I thought these contacts would make me look…"

"…more beautiful?" Douglas finished. He shook his head. "Maybe we should try being ourselves first, you think?"

She nodded. "Great idea." She reached into her purse and pulled out a glasses case. "I like how these contacts make me feel, but I'm still not sure they're me."

He drew a pair of contacts in their disposable bubbles out of his pocket. "And these glasses are pinching my head a little."

She grinned. "Meet you back here in five minutes, okay?"

He shook his head. "No. Let's meet outside. I hate these office parties."

"Oh God, me too!" She reached out and touched his arm. "Outside, then. Five minutes."

Douglas nodded. "It's a date."

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