With folders tucked under her arm, Eve left Phil’s office. Her focus: be gone before he returns. She hurried down the main aisle acknowledging with a forced smile and quick nod those few workers who noticed her. Finally, she pushed the exit door shut behind her and breathe in the faint aroma of the familiar office chemicals used for reproduction.
Ammonia. Applied to light-sensitive paper to reproduce large blueprints of equipment manufactured in the plant. Three years earlier, she had worked with these chemicals in the copy room. By lunch time, she had felt faint and nauseated. That evening she had experienced a horrific headache. That was the first and last time she worked in the copy room.
Aware of the sound of telephones ringing and employees shuffling about from desks to file cabinets, she marveled at how two different worlds were separated by the mere presence of the heavy double doors. Then, her brow knotted as she chewed her inner cheek. What do I tell Betty?
Upon arrival, Eve exhaled a deep breath as she sat at the edge of her desk. Betty’s desk was strewn with papers and several lipstick-stained cigarette butts she had crushed amidst the ashes in the ashtray. Eve opened the window to air out the acrid stench. She could actually taste the horrid nicotine. She had read about nicotine in a health magazine. Second hand smoke was just as dangerous as actually smoking. Perhaps worse. The room, yellow with nicotine, had a terrible odor. It had to be unhealthy. There was talk in the office about a smoking room. But that had been discussed for over a year. Maybe to calm the health-conscious, non-smokers. Meanwhile, Betty smoked up a daily blizzard of smoke with windows closed.
Eve sucked in a deep breath of fresh air as she fanned the pollution out the other window.
How will Betty explain things to George? Get to work. She’ll be back. Or not.
“Eve, how’d your meeting go?” Betty asked as she returned to the office.
“Oh, fine. How did you do with George?”
“Well, not as good as I hoped. After all it is my first quarterly report. I could have used your help.”
“He wasn’t happy with it?”
“Oh. I don’t know, yet. We’re having another meeting ─ tonight.”
Betty smiled, “Yeah. What should I wear?
“What you have on now is fine. After all, it isn’t a date. No need to impress the boss, is there?” Eve frowned as Betty hugged her report to her chest and walked to her desk with a faint smile on her lips.
No report, the boss is not happy and she’s smiling! Eve suddenly saw this as an opportunity; a way out from Phil’s offer for a date. After all, George ordered her to teach Betty the ropes. “Want me to come with you?”
“Whatever for? No, George and I will do fine. Just fine.”
Eve wasn’t ready for a date just now. But when would be a good time? Who knew? “I could join you to explain things about reports. Along with George, of course.”
“I said ‘no’ didn’t I?” Betty snapped.
Humming a tune, Betty wrote on her notepad, flipped through her printout and reached for another cigarette.
Betty’s sounds happy. That “girl-friend” from California? That’s not it. Think she really met a boy-friend and now she’s lucked out not doing her work. Damn! How can she be so irresponsible and get away with it? I’d be fired on the spot! I’d fire her if I were George.
Later that evening, Eve arrived at Jason’s Grocery. As she pushed her cart to the meat counter, Betty brushed by in a black dress with a plunging neckline, fish-net stockings and silver, six-inch heels.
“Hey, Bet… .” Eve quickly puckered her lips. Don’t call attention to yourself. Where’s she going? Out. With? George? A date? A date. Geesus! You got to be kidding. No, no. She’s in a rush because she worked late with George. Must be. Going out with that friend from California. It’s late. Can’t be George. I’m sure he’s home by now.
As Eve drove home with her groceries, she pondered the plausible scenarios. What if there
is something going on? But with whom? George or California boy-friend? Don’t know it’s a man. She did say ‘girl-friend’. “Stop it. It is none of your business,” Eve yelled to her rear-view mirror. She arrived home, unpacked her cache of groceries then turned on the television to her favorite sit-com, The Carol Burnett Show.
Oh, to be a sit-com queen. To watch what goes on in each department would probably be as good a laugh. Life at the office… .
Get to bed. Quit obsessing about Betty and her shenanigans.
Phil. Forget about him. Don’t want to call. What about tomorrow? At work? Discourage him. He’s not my type, anyway. “I’ve created a monster and I’ve got to be rid of him.” Eve pulled the covers over her head.
At her usual time, Eve pulled into the parking lot. When she exited her vehicle, she noticed Phil parked next to her reserved spot. She quietly closed her door and inserted her key into the lock. With his nose in the newspaper, maybe he won’t notice. She hurried away from her car hoping to avoid him.
“Eve! Wait up. Been waiting for you. Hold up a minute.”
Eve squeezed her eyes tight as she grimaced. She slowly turned feigning surprise with eyes wide and a limp grin. “Phil. I didn’t see you there. Is that your parking spot?”
“Naw. Got to move the car before the owner shows up. I knew you always got here early, so I thought I’d wait for you.”
“How’d you know that?”
“Receptionist said you usually got here before she did.”
“I got to talk to our busy, little receptionist.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, I just need to tell her stuff, is all. We’re─we’re buddies. You must know that too since you know where I park.”
“You angry?” Phil asked.
Eve forced another smile. “Angry? Why would I be angry? It’s a free world. You can park anywhere you like. So. Why are you looking for me?”
“Oh. I thought we could have our meeting. You know. Yesterday. It hadn’t worked out then. So now I have time. Coffee in the café and a bagel? Bet you’re a plain-bagel gal.”
“The meeting is not necessary. I solved the problem and you don’t have to worry about it. But I’ll join you for coffee and yes, a plain bagel.”
“Okay. Forget the meeting. Meet you in the café after I move my car.”
Why did I do that? Eve was surprised at her bold invitation. It was definitely bold. Didn’t she just decide that she was not ready for any relationship? Her shoulders drooped as she carried her L. L. Bean bag, into which she stuffed her purse, lunch, book, and other stuff. Stuff she kept forgetting to throw away until she grabbed her purse next time─usually when she rushed out the door or walked from car to office. Then she’d forget again. Until the next day.
Betty doesn’t have a problem dating─dating─and dating. Bet she dates lots of guys at the same time. Am I jealous? Nooo way. I’ll find someone nice. No lecherous men panting over me, no thank you. “Men!”
Phil arrived at the café with a broad smile and a flash of perfectly shaped, white teeth. He sported a fresh haircut and a crisp, blue shirt with a pen and notebook in his breast pocket.
Eve remained quiet as he made his way from the coffee dispenser, picked up a coffee stirrer to blend the cream and grabbed a napkin.
“How’s the bagel?”
“Fine. None for you?”
“Never liked pastries much,” he chuckled.
“That explains your great physique.” Eve’s cheeks warmed.
“Oh. You noticed. And you’re blushing again. I think you like me. Do you?”
Surprised at his directness, Eve choked on her bagel and her attempt to wash it down with coffee only made it worse. She grabbed at his offered napkin, tried to control her cough only to dribble and spray coffee onto the table and her blouse.
“Eve. You okay?” Phil’s brow knotted over his now sympathetic stare. He rose and tapped her back in a firm stroke. “Can you breathe?”
Eve choked as the bagel stuck in her air passageway. She grabbed her throat with one hand
and Phil’s shirt with the other. She couldn’t breathe. She sensed being lifted out of her seat and a pressure came up from under her rib cage. She wanted to breathe. Another jab under her ribs came up hard. Where was Phil? Breathe! Again, a sharp jab. She was unable to control her body. Her surroundings were no longer visible. Where was she? Breathe! Breathe! Her watery eyes opened wide at the next jab under her ribs and a tightness around her middle that came from behind. She crumbled backwards as a sudden whoosh of air finally entered her lungs. Her heart pounded then eventually slowed back to normal.
“Can you breathe?” Phil asked.
Eve turned to Phil now standing over her and stroking her hair. She nodded while she wiped her eyes and blew her nose into his napkin. “I think so. I can breathe now. How embarrassing. Thanks Phil. I need another napkin.”
“Here take this one. You gave me a fright for a few seconds there.”
“Seconds? It felt like forever. I thought I was going to die. I had these sharp pains under my rib cage,” she coughed and blew her nose again.
“I gave you a couple of Heimlichs to make you breathe. This happen often?”
“What? Oh. You mean do I choke often? Never happened before,” Eve breath in a large gulp of air and emitted a squeak and a snort. She giggled into her napkin, “Sorry. I seem to be a mess at the moment.”
“Well, you were practically unconscious. I had to grab onto you so you would stay upright while I pushed up under your rib cage to force that bagel out. You had a pretty good sized piece in there. I kept going at it until it came out. Receptionist investigated the commotion and called 911. They should be here in a few minutes. You’re lucky I trained as a para-medic. Been one for years.”
“Oh. Thank you for saving my life. It was very disorienting to lose control like that.”
“I never knew my physique would affect women so drastically. I must have a hell of a good-looking body. Now you’re blushing again. No more bagels when we’re together. Okay?”
Eve laughed as she wiped her face and dabbed at her blouse. I need to go home and change. “I’ll be late for work after all.”
“No. Stay until the ambulance gets here. Company policy. Liability stuff and all. Gosh, hope I’m not a liability with this physique of mine. Think I could lose my job?”
Eve smiled, “I don’t think so. I promise no bagel from now on.”
Phil sat opposite Eve, cupped her hand into his two large, warm hands. “I think you do like me.”
Eve smiled as her cheeks got very warm. “Do I?”