One afternoon, Alex leans in the doorway of my office, holding coffee from Starbucks. She says I must be busy, working, going to school, planning a wedding. Thanking her, I sip the cappuccino then turn back to the computer. I feel her hover in the doorway just an extra moment, she’s gone when I turn around.
Now almost every afternoon at two, she brings Starbucks. The clock ticks heavy and slow. A missed day feels like a low toothache. In penance, she leaves odd little gifts on my desk, a wind-up Halloween skeleton that clatters and gnashes it’s teeth, a tiny toy dog that barks if I squeeze it.
The office ladies throw me a bridal shower at a Mexican restaurant. We drink pitchers of neon green Margaritas. Someone snatches a sombrero and attempts a drunken hat dance. Alex sits alone at the far end of the table in her grey jersey and baseball cap. Drinking bottles of Budweiser, she watches as I merrily open box after box of salad bowls, plaid dish towels. At eleven o’clock, my fiancé picks me up. I blow everyone big sweeping drunken kisses. I turn to leave and she’s right there. Alex whispers “Are you sure this is what you really want?” She’s gone before I ask what she means. Pulling out of the parking lot, I see her standing at the far end of the lot, watching us drive away. She doesn’t come to the reception, I glance up every time the doors swing open.
Every morning I check voice mail at work. Alex starts leaving me long rambling messages about plucking her eyebrows and the color of the moon. She blames her new Ambien prescription. I wonder if they mean anything, she leaves them only for me. The days get longer. I live for the moment she materializes in my door.
I tell my brand new husband I have a crush. Clicking off the TV, he defensively asks “Who is this guy?” I tell him it’s a she, not a he. I’m met with relieved laughter. Leaning back in his easy chair, he says he’s not worried, clicks on the football game. I want to say “Houston, we have a problem.”
One afternoon, I show Alex some funny photo on the computer screen. Absentmindedly, she runs her fingers through my hair. I feel her fingertips linger warm on the back of my neck. We both freeze, looking anxiously at the open door. Alex quickly pulls away as if I’m on fire. I am. Squeezing my eyes shut, I try to take a mental photograph. I want every detail: the dust in the air that sparkles in the sun, the hum of the air conditioner, the heat of her hands stroking my hair. This will be the only time that she will ever touch me.
Alex takes me out to dinner, we’re stiffly polite. She starts missing work, a lot of work. One afternoon, she passes by my doorway. I hear her stomp down the hall. The whole office hears her argument with the boss. She quits, slams doors, storms out. She will never return my calls. I can’t bear her overwhelming absence, I quit too.