The shadow that loomed across his desk was definitely unwelcome, if not unexpected, exactly.
“What now?” he muttered to himself.
The fifth interruption in less than thirty minutes did not bode well for his deadline.
“What was that?”
His boss was not a tall man, but you don’t have to be particularly tall to cast a shadow on the crappy particleboard desk.
“Nothing.” Reluctantly, he spun the wheeled chair around to face his interrupter. “What’s up?”
The slightly wrinkled khakis and white button-down shirt were familiar, as were the glasses and the admittedly admirable mustache … the bouquet of flowers and card, however, were unexpected.
“Those for me?”
The mustache quirked down in frowning disapproval.
“Of course not,” he said. “They’re for Sarah in accounting. Sign the card and pass it on.”
The man unceremoniously dumped the card and flowers on the desk, a good deal less gently than flowers deserve and fled back to his cave of an office.
Oh. Sarah. That’s right, he realized. An office-wide email had mentioned she’d had a death in her family last week, hadn’t it? Had it been Sarah? He couldn’t quite remember.
He shook his head, as if physically joggling his brain would make the necessary details float to the surface. Not bothering to read the other notes, he opened the card and scribbled on some available white space.
People always wrote the same thing on these cards anyway… why bother reading it?
“My deepest condolences. So sorry for your loss.
It wasn’t poetry, but it would do, he supposed, sliding the card back into the envelope and shunting it onto the next desk over.
The colorful envelope and card were long forgotten by the time five o’clock rolled around. Deadlines have a tendency to turn brains into mush, and this one was no exception. By the time a head popped up over the partition between cubicles, he was almost ready to face-plant onto the desk.
“You coming, man?”
Steve had a tendency to begin conversations as if they were already in the middle of one.
“Coming to what?”
Getting answers out of this guy was damn near impossible.
“A bunch of us are getting together for a few drinks for Sarah’s birthday,” he shrugged, as if this information was already common knowledge. “See you there, maybe?”
The head disappeared over the cubicle as quickly as it had appeared. How did that guy have so much energy at the end of the day? He was like a rabbit on steroids.
Then he felt the blood drain from his face.
The note he’d left came back to him.
He found himself on his feet before he remembered making the decision to get up. The traitorous feet were taking him down the hallway to Sarah’s cubicle. He didn’t know what he was going to say… but he had to say something, right?
Somehow, miracle of miracles, he rounded the corner without crashing into her, as she stood there, gathering her things and getting ready to go.
He sounded out of breath. How had he possibly gotten out of breath from walking down the hall? He hadn’t meant her name to come out as a question, but it had.
He should’ve thought this out better. Actually, he should’ve thought this out, period. It’s a lot harder to tell someone you’ve messed up when they’re looking directly at you. And it’s especially harder when that someone has long dark hair and bright blue eyes and is smiling at you.
“I just….. Happy Birthday,” he said, lamely.
“I just wanted to…. Umm…. Talk to you about your card.”
“My birthday card? Thanks for that, by the way. It was really sweet of you guys.”
Ok. Now the hard part.
“I … just wanted to say I’m sorry, for what I wrote.”
She quirked an eyebrow.
“So… you don’t wish me a happy birthday, after all?”
He felt himself turning bright red.
“No, of course I do… It’s just that I … didn’t mean what I wrote.”
“I see,” she said.
“I actually haven’t read the card yet,” she admitted with a small shrug. “So I haven’t read the horrible, terribly mean thing you wrote.”
Now he was in the odd position of having to defend himself.
“It wasn’t terribly, horribly mean….”
“It wasn’t,” he confirmed. “And I didn’t mean to write it so…”
“You didn’t mean to write it?” she asked. “Were you signing my birthday card under duress? Someone was forcing you to write it?”
“I …” he felt himself turning a deeper shade of red, but forced himself to mumble the words anyway. “I had thought it was a condolence card.”
This got a laugh.
“I see,” she said.
She cast him a fake-somber look.
“So you offered me your deepest condolences on turning 30?”
“Yes,” he said, managing a smile back. “I suppose I did.”
“Well,” she said. “I accept your condolences.”
He hadn’t meant that to come out as a question either.
“There is a way you can make it up to me.”
“Come have a drink with us,” she said. “The place isn’t far. You can buy me a condolence martini.”
He was prepared to mutter something about being busy, or having an urgent deadline. Instead, he just said yes.
Sometimes, deadlines can wait. And sometimes life is all the better for having missed them.
(write for) 10 minutes * miscommunication * bouquet of flowers
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