Holiday Flashfiction #1: The Office Party (X-posted from Free Fiction Friday)
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Ah, the office holiday party
If ever a tradition deserved to die a a swift and painful death, it's the Rockwell, Brown, and Breckenridge holiday party. I’ve been here for nine years, and every year is the same. In fact, by now I can pretty much predict how things will go down.
The party begins at seven. Rita Brown and Murphy Breckenridge will arrive separately, still holding onto the ruse that they won’t be leaving together in an hour or two. Nobody is fooled, and as soon as they leave—separately, and a few minutes apart—the gossip will start up. Harold from Accounting will drink way too much and, by nine, be hitting on whoever’s currently the hottest single woman in the office. Sadly, he’ll be rebuffed and end up settling for someone closer to his (nonexistent) hotness level, like Rhonda from Secretarial. Boring conversation will swirl around like fog, getting increasingly risqué and incomprehensible as ridiculous amounts of drinks and appetizers are consumed. At around nine, George Rockwell will show up with trophy wife number whatever and hold court until eleven. At midnight, the staff of whatever restaurant is unfortunate enough to be hosting us in their meeting room will shoo us all out, and the night is over. At least, for those of us going home alone. The others will face the walk of shame the next morning, when sobriety and common sense return. Good times.
Needless to say, I wasn’t too thrilled about the idea of attending this year’s party, but not going was not an option. To George Rockwell, failure to attend was tantamount to office treason. I may not enjoy the little get-together, but I do like being employed. Nobody risks George’s wrath by not showing up, not even people with three times as much seniority as I have.
Which is why at nine o’clock on December 17, I found myself seated in the corner of the private party room at Bugsy’s Bar and Grill, drinking a gin and tonic and watching the same old routine play out before my eyes. Harold was on his fifth drink of the night. Susie, one of his coworkers from Accounting, was fending off his advances. I thought about going to rescue her, but since I was discreet almost to the point of being closeted, I didn’t want to make her think I was interested. She’d come to my office on the pretense of discussing something related to her department several times in the past month. Once she’d leaned in really close to show me a graph she’d made, and I saw her keep glancing at me to see if I was checking out her boobs. Even a guy as clueless as I tended to be could figure out where that was headed.
Not for the first time, I wished I would meet a guy worth coming out for. Every man I had dated turned out to be better as a friend, or just better as an ex. I had a bad habit of choosing guys who were all flash and no substance, and coming to regret it later.
Lucky for me, Joe from Legal swooped in to save poor Susie. Harold, thwarted again, looked around for his next victim. Ugh. I turned my attention to the other side of the room. Several people I would consider casual friends were gathered there, but I didn’t feel like going over to them. It had been a long, tough week, and all I really wanted to do was go home. A surreptitious glance at my watch told me I could probably sneak out in another hour or so. Any earlier would be a risk I wasn’t willing to take.
The sound of a throat clearing pulled my attention to a person standing near my small table. I smiled automatically and turned to greet the newcomer. As soon as I saw who it was, my smile turned genuine. Sam from Tech Support stood about a foot away from me, drink in hand. His spiky brown hair went in all directions, as usual, although I could see he’d made an effort to tame it. He wore his usual uniform of a polo shirt and khakis. Since I’d last seen him, he’d gotten new glasses. The new frames were even geekier than his old ones had been. His cheeks were flushed, either from drink or his shyness. He was adorable.
For once, he spoke first. “H-hey, Rick.” The flush across his cheekbones deepened.
“Hey, Sam.” I paused, searching for something to say. “Are you enjoying the party?” Usually I don’t have any trouble with conversation, but with Sam it’s almost like his shyness is contagious. It probably had something to do with the huge crush I’d had on him since the first time I saw him. I’d been half-gone when he walked in the door to fix the aging desktop no one seemed to want to replace. Once he’d bent over to shine his little flashlight into the computer’s guts, I was lost. He had the cutest ass I’d ever seen. After a year of working with him, I had come to like him for more than just his nerdy version of sexiness. His sweet, shy personality was icing on the cake.
“I guess. Those little shrimp appetizers are really good.” He shuffled his feet awkwardly, and then blurted, “I could get you one. If you want?”
Sam was too cute. Could he actually be flirting with me? I should be so lucky. “No, thanks.” I smiled again and shook my head. “I’m allergic to shrimp. Although anaphylaxis might liven up this party.”
“Oh, God, I’m so sorry!” Sam looked down at his hands, then over at me. Under his breath, he muttered, “I’m such an idiot!” Aloud, he said, “I should go wash my hands.”
Feeling bold, I leaned forward. “Only if you planned to touch me.”
To my surprise, Sam clenched his cup tighter and stared right at me. Behind the thick lenses on his glasses, his blue eyes looked huge and a little scared. “I’d like to.”
Sure I couldn’t be hearing him right, I stared right back. “You’d like to what?”
His cheeks were lobster red, but he didn’t back down. “Touch you.”
His expression, so sweet and earnest, left no doubt that he was serious. Warmth bloomed somewhere in the vicinity of my heart, although I would never have admitted it to anyone. I pulled out a packet of Handi-wipes and passed him one. He took the disinfectant wipe and eyed it as if he had never seen one before. I had to laugh. “Use that, and you can.”
Sadly, I wouldn’t be able to kiss him for a while. People with a food allergy as severe as mine had been known to have reactions from kissing someone who’d eaten their trigger food.
Of course, there was always tomorrow.
His eyes lit up, and he began to clean his hands with a methodical thoroughness. He must have caught my amused glance, because he grinned. “I’ve wanted you for almost a year. There’s no way I’m screwing it up because of a little shrimp.”
When he finished and tossed the wipe into a nearby trash can, I reached across the table and touched his hand. “I think I’ve gotten enough holiday spirit. Want to go get coffee somewhere?”
He nodded and curled his fingers around mine. His hand was warm, slim, and strong. I liked the way it felt in mine. We stood at the same time. I could have pulled my hand away, but I didn’t. We walked out of Bugsy’s Bar and Grill hand in hand. We would probably be the topic of all the gossip for the rest of the night, but I didn’t care. I had a feeling he just might be the one worth coming out for.