Saturday, March 8, 2014

Chapter Four

Bitsy spent the whole day at work lagging. To start off with, she was late, because she went into the restroom at the tube station and rinsed most of the coffee out of her blouse and dried it (mostly) under the flash dryer. Then, once she got to the office, she kept telling people about the accident even though no one asked about the stain on her shirt, not a single time.

And of course every time she told the story she had to stop herself from babbling about him and how she was sure he was Real and how she’d given him her number and he was going to call and they’d have coffee after work, and then ... and then ... and then ...

Well, nobody had asked her about her ruined top, but three different people asked her what was wrong and why she’d frozen up right in the middle of the story. Luckily, the very first time she blurted out that she was just embarrassed at how it ended up, and then went on and told about washing her shirt in the ladies’ room. That was talking to Lectricia from accounts payable. Since Trish seemed to buy it she fell back on the same excuse the other two times too before she finally got nervous that maybe she needed to stop telling the story and do some work.

But work just wouldn’t stick in her head, no matter how many times she tried stuffing it back in there. She always ended up staring blankly at her display, numbers bee-buzzing through the air before her, none of them going together and making any sense. Any second, he might call. He had her number and he might call or screen-ping her .... now. Or ... now. Or ... now ... now ... mmmmnnnow ...

Lunchtime came and she ate with Trish. The cafeteria throbbed, jam-crammed with the noise of people who thought the world was the same today as it was yesterday, the same as it had been before 7:54 this morning when scalding black coffee sloshed out of a cup and turned her shirt a brown just like his eyes and upended the world to soak her in boiling hot hope that wouldn’t cool no matter how hard she fanned it and wouldn’t rinse out no matter how many sinks she ran herself under. Trish asked her three times what was wrong with her today and she answered something different every time.

By two-thirty that afternoon a nibbling doubt had Bitsy frowning, and by three-thirty her elbow was on her desk and her chin was on her hand as she stared at the phone beside her display. Something yellow floated across the doorway to her cubical slowly enough to register in both her peripheral vision and her processor, but she didn’t turn her head to look. Then it floated by again and even though she still didn’t look, she knew what it was and she had to hold in a groan.

At last the yellow coasted to a stop and cleared its throat and made her look up and of course it was Gigory in the saffron shirt and brown tie he wore every Tuesday. Unlike most other Tuesdays, though, today Bitsy didn’t have to restrain herself from asking why the same shirt and tie showed up on him like clockwork once a week, when he seemed to have a perfectly plentiful wardrobe and never repeated anything on other days. No, today Bitsy could spare only enough processing power to dread Gigory’s other never-fail trait, which was that he had to say something to her every day. And of course with her freaky behavior she’d given him the perfect excuse.

So when she turned and there he was hovering in the entrance to her cube, with his shaggy blond eyebrows a little lower than normal instead of hovering hopefully over puppy-dog eyes, she put on her best no-big-deal face and said, “Oh, hi Gigory. Look, I know I’ve been acting funny today but its really nothing anybody needs to worry over. I just got coffee spilled all over me and for some reason it upset my whole apple-card. But I promise everything’s fine. So I appreciate you and everybody else being concerned, but –”

And then Gigory did something unusual. He interrupted her.

“Uh, Bitsy, I really need those 6-O-2 reports.”

Oh my Loj. That’s not his “what’s up with poor Bitsy” face. That’s his “please don’t let Bitsy be mad at me for reminding her that if I don’t get those reports, she’s totally screwed me over.”

Gigory. Sweet, awkward, sometimes-funny Gigory, who she might have thought about dating except that he wasn’t Real and he’d never worked up the courage to ask. Standing at the door of her cube, pouring reality over her as cold and biting as the coffee had been hot this morning. She’d drowned in daydreaming ever since she walked into the office this morning, and he’d been waiting probably since ten o’clock for her to do her job so he could do his and the team productivity metrics would stay in the green and everybody could keep going about their happy android lives with the expected number of credits in their accounts and no one from management coming down to raise a stink.

She’d met someone Real, and instead of making her life suddenly better, it had made everyone else’s around her worse.

“I’m so sorry, Gigory, I don’t know how – I – look, I can get you half of them by ... what time is it? Okay, by four thirty. And I’ll stay late and get the other half done, and they’ll be ready when you come in tomorrow morning. And I’ll do some of tomorrow’s before I leave too, and then we’ll be back on track. I am so sorry.”

The worst of it was the guilty look on Gigory’s face as she said all this. I totally fritzed his output for the day, and he feels bad because now I feel bad about it. The Real guy was not going to call. Maybe he hadn’t even been Real at all. Maybe she had just gotten coffee spilled on her front and used it as an excuse to flutter off into a world of make-believe and let her silly-girl fantasies cause trouble for everyone around her.

Before she could stop herself, she said, “Look, maybe I can buy you dinner sometime to make up for this.”

Gigory’s face went all blinky-blank.

Oh no. What did I go and do that for?

But she’d done it, and as she watched him slowly process what she’d said and overwrite his blank expression with a tittery disbelieving one, she knew there was no way to take it back.

“Uh,” said Gigory. “Really?”

There were the puppy-dog eyes at last.

She sighed. “Really. But first I have to crank these reports out, so ...”

“Sure, sure,” he said, sounding like he was trying to sound like he wasn’t about to float away in the cloud. He turned away and then looked back and then turned away again and his yellow shirt vanished down the cube-row.

Bitsy groaned and started working.

And at 8:12 that evening, her desk phone pinged.

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