Muggy heat feels like suspension in Jell-o in the burnt orange afternoon and the A/C in the office struggles to keep pace. Deb: angry, loud, and very middle-aged, very high on something if not just scarily high strung, is being escorted out by the managers. She can come retrieve her belongings after hours, just not today. She needs to cool off. It feels like a Sunday, but it’s Monday.
I watch as she finally leaves the room and then there’s a tap on my shoulder. It’s Phoebe. She asks if I can give her a ride home today even though I just gave her one yesterday. I’m starting to think she thinks she found a way out of paying bus fare, but then again she sends me pictures of her naked chest on most nights so it sort of kind of almost evens out.
She’s asking for a ride home. I say “yeah”. I think “great”. Sarcastically, mind you. Think sarcastically that I love having her around and love the fact that I’ve accidentally let work fill every gap in my life like peroxide in a nasty scrape. I’m satisfied with the fact that I’m just a creative kind of guy who entertains himself with these kinds of half-assed analogies. Sarcastic and satisfied with myself and my little problems and how I handle them or usually don’t.
I look and it’s almost time to clock out. It’s about this time that I start thinking of ways not to kiss Phoebe when I drop her off. I will be uncouth today. Insensitive. A dick. I will stop her as she leans forward and explain to her that I never did want anything serious. After 6 consecutive weeks of parking lot blowjobs and refusing to go into her apartment because I’m too afraid to park my new car in her neighborhood… I don’t want anything serious.
The heat is made worse by the black leather car seats and when we sit down she burns her skirted legs and squeaks. She asks if I have anything for her to cover the seat with. I don’t. I leave the radio off. We’re driving and we can only hear the bumps in the road. Her hands are between her legs. She’s on her best behavior.
She asks in a soft voice if I heard what happened to Deb.
I say No, what?
Well I heard she was gonna go after Luis.
When I leave her here, she’ll call me. When I don’t answer she’ll text asking why I’m not answering. When I finally decide to admit that I’ve been stringing her along and that this needs to stop she’ll feel cheated. I’ll get the call from HR and beg to keep my job. I didn’t mean it. Here, look. She wanted it, I say as I show them all the messages I’ve so mindfully saved. She’s explaining what happened to Deb.
Well Luis, one of the upstairs managers copped a feel not that long ago and Deb filed a complaint. She threatened to press charges. Luis then talked to his good friend Arnold upstairs from him who talked to Garrison down the hall from him who called someone downtown and now Deb has been told to come back later for her things.
We reach a red light. Phoebe puts her hand at my jawline and pulls me in for a kiss. My neck is stiff and my head is turned toward the light. She thinks it’s funny. C’mon, she says. I tell her I have to drive. The light turns green and we move. You’re an ass, she tells me. Of course we catch the next red light.
She pulls me in again baring a predatory smile and now’s my chance to tell her how I really feel. She jumps me this time. Stretches her seatbelt and comes at me so I have no choice. My eyes are open watching for the traffic light to turn. She opens her legs and pushes my hand under her skirt. I concede, helpless, and I guess I kiss back and push her panties to the side. Someone to our right looks down from his lifted truck. I roll my open eyes. The light turns green, the car behind us honks. I take my hand and flip a wet bird and shift into first.
She puts her hand on mine on the shifter. She won’t look away from me. I look back and she smacks an air kiss my way. I shudder. My eyes are on the road. She says something I don’t listen to. She says it again:
How come you avoid me at work?
Yeah. You sit at your desk all day reading. You ignore everyone.
I don’t know. I like to be alone.
She looks ahead obviously discontent with my answer. She rubs her left boob. My boob hurts, she says.
I look at her.
Eddie hugged me earlier.
You know Eddie. He’s, like, big ya know? She gestures ‘big’ with her arms wide. He, like, picked me up and it smashed my tit.
I don’t say anything. Eddie is big. He’s short and dark and much older than both Phoebe and me. She’s looking at me waiting for a response she won’t get.
You ok? she says.
You look mad.
You sure? Wanna come in for a drink?
We’re reaching her apartment. Black and brown neighbors’ stares reflect off my Honda whenever I pull up. I think about her offer. She grabs at me, puts her mouth on mine. Her hands wander down. Her tongue finds my Adam’s apple and she pulls away and asks again. I park my car on the street.
I make sure the theft alarm is set. She’s grabbing my hand, dragging me toward the chipped white metal door that leads into the complex. The car beeps. I think of Deb and Luis and how I don’t have guys upstairs and down the hall and downtown to save me. I think of work. This feels like work. I grit my teeth because this could be the way it’s designed.
Phoebe smells good as I follow in her wake, the sound of her cheap heels my death knell. She’s a nice girl though – a stable job – and I think maybe I should do better. I should maybe answer the phone sometimes and keep these small promises I make. I should reach the lowest bar that I set long ago. Be gentle. Punctual. Follow unspoken rules. I hold her hand and wait for this all to end, to get called into the last office for the last check for the last job for the last time.