When I next entered the office, I tried to forget that Brent shared the same space. But despite my efforts, my senses were quite in tune with his presence. His voice traveled across the room, like an aroma drifting from a candle, soft and comforting, impossible to dislike.
I followed his voice to the breakroom, where he and Patty were sharing a laugh about something she discovered in the back of the fridge. She tossed it in the garbage while saying, “I’m sure they’ll never miss it.”
“I’m quite sure they won’t.”
I didn’t like the way she smiled at him, how easily her laugh came. Watching her made me feel foolish standing behind them. Nonetheless, I couldn’t turn and walk away, either. I moved around them to get to the coffee machine. That’s when Brent’s voice startled me.
“Good morning, Skylar.”
Suddenly, I was self-conscious about a childhood flaw that, at times, haunted me. One leg had grown slightly longer than the other, and if I started thinking about it, as I did then, having Brent’s eyes on me, I found it impossible to ignore.
“Good morning, Brent,” I said while focusing on each unstable step. “Did you save any coffee for me?”
Patty strolled past him and gently placed her hand on his back. “We’ll catch up in a bit.”
“Sure, Patty.” His eyes never left mine as he spoke.
I was standing beside him as I poured my coffee. Was I sweating? I felt the cool trickle down my neck and could not deny that I was.
“They sure do like to keep it warm in here, don’t they?” I said.
“I feel fine.” He eyed me with a hint of a smile playing at his lips. “Want me to see if they’ll lower the heat?”
“Oh no, besides, it wouldn’t do any good. Thanks, though.” Before the rambling could commence, I made my way to the door.
“See you later, Skylar.”
“See ya, Brent,” I said over my shoulder.
Don’t think about limping. Don’t think about limping. After a few minutes, my heart rate began to calm down, and I forced myself to get my mind back where it needed to be. My uninterrupted focus time lasted for about an hour.
“Skylar, I need you to review the forms Suzanne prepared,” Bruce said as he dropped a file on my desk.
Suzanne was apparently the female temp earlier referred to as blah blah. Being a man of few words, Bruce headed back to his cave without any further explanation. Our boss always wore slacks, a dress shirt, and a tie, yet he still appeared as if he had just rolled out of bed. He didn’t qualify as officially bald; however, he flirted with the affliction. Only a ring of hair encircled his shiny chrome top. Through the years, his stomach had formed enough of a pouch that it hung slightly over his pants. His appearance screamed that he had given up long ago.
“No problem,” I said to the already empty air, even though I found it infuriating to once again have other people’s work dumped on me.
I picked up the folder. Nice and thick. Great. The idea of focusing on it seemed impossible. Instead, my mind drifted to Brent.
The thing that got me, and I suspected others as well, was the need to be near Brent. A feeling overwhelmed me that if I could somehow rub up against him, even slightly, some of what he had would settle onto me. Something I lacked lingered on his skin. I knew that until I traversed in his steps—until I took in the shared air, some part of me would remain empty.
Above the standard office hum, his voice reverberated through the air warmly as he answered a question Patty asked, presumably work-related; however, I couldn’t be certain. Then the room went silent. When I glanced up, I saw Brent approaching my cubicle. Quickly, I flipped open the folder and began studying the forms.
“So, this is where you call home?”
I glanced around my cubicle. A picture of Adam smiled back at me.
“This is it. I’m considering remodeling after tax season. Maybe put in some hardwoods.” The heat that crept up my neckline assured me that, despite my words, I had not played it cool.
Brent responded with an amused smile before he moved along.
I cursed the sensation of being drawn to him like a lab to the water. The overwhelming urge to be near him embarrassed me, and there was no one I could discuss the infatuation I had for Brent with, nor could I explain my feelings even to myself. But I couldn’t deny that Brent’s presence in my life was exposing the empty places inside of me, and I was becoming desperate to fill them.
The next day, I unknowingly pulled into the parking spot beside Brent. He stepped out of his black F150 truck as I came to a stop. At first, I couldn’t tell if he noticed me, but I when I hit the lock button, he turned at the sound of the beep.
“Good morning, Skylar.”
“Good morning.”
“So, I’m hearing everyone’s going to happy hour this Friday. Does that include you?”
“No,” I said, sounding more critical than I intended to. “I don’t generally attend the office drunk fest.”
“Generally, or ever?”
“Ever. Watching Liz get drunk and hit on everyone is not entertaining to me. She’s engaged, you know?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“That’s an interesting story. Liz got divorced a few years back from her high school sweetheart. I heard that he caught her with their mechanic, another high school companion of hers. Rumor has it that when her then-husband Seth went to the garage to check on the progress of their BMW, he found his mechanic busy checking out much more than his wife’s carburetor.”
“That is interesting. And where does one go to get all the dirt on their fellow coworkers?”
“Different places, but I know that story because, let’s face it, we’re all merely human and who could pass up a chance to eavesdrop on conversations of that caliber. I try to tune out a great deal of the gossip, though.”
“And what is there to know about you?” Brent said as he opened the office door.
“Good morning, Brent.” Liz stood inside the entrance as if she were waiting for him.
“You’ll have to fill me in another time, Skylar.”
“Yes, another time.” Maybe by that time, I would have something worth saying.

As I sat in my cubicle, reapplying my newly purchased lipstick, a question entered my mind. If the Universe planned for my path to intercept Brent’s, why did so many other women whisper his name? What was the Universe’s plan when it decided to include all these different characters? Furthermore, if the Universe had created this magnetism, why did it seem so one-sided?
Maybe I had chosen to overlook the fact that there are many reasons why two paths might intercept, romance being only one of them. Brent entered my life for a reason, but only time would reveal the plan behind this encounter. Whatever the reason, I would accept it. After all, who was I to question what the Universe intends for us in its elaborate plans?
Liz’s flirtatious tone drifted from Brent’s cubicle as she tried to explain how surprised she felt last weekend when she experienced a hangover after just a few shots.
“It must have been from the sun. We’d spent the day on Atlantic Beach before going out.”
The sun? Really? It’s winter, and even in northern Florida, it cools down. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re no spring chicken, and you’re downing tequila shots or whatever it is that older people drink on a bender. What did you expect? I kept these thoughts to myself and made a mental note that if I ever wanted to expose my skin to the harmful effects of the sun, I would choose a more secluded place than Atlantic Beach.
I couldn’t completely blame Liz for believing Brent wanted to hear all about her adventures. Brent did bring it on himself. He had the unique ability to draw people in and quickly become familiar with everyone in the office. Brent seldom passed someone by the end of week one without addressing them by name. He held eye contact with each person, perfecting the exact amount of time that said, I see you, and then drifting on before the moment reached, I’m a creepy stalker. He had a way of making each one of us feel important to him, as if he wanted to know all of us a little bit more. Which, of course, made me curse the whole universal magnetism once again.
What power did he hold over me that no one, not even Adam, possessed? Brent could walk into the accounting office—a quiet space split apart by cubicles—and bring in from the world mysteries that clung to him like snowflakes glistening on the trees. However, the snowflakes never melted off in the stagnant air; the smile seldom left his eyes. I needed to glisten with his energy more than I needed anything.
Roy understood the need when he chose to plunge into those icy unwelcoming waters. A heart that beats in unison with all the other heartbeats until its sound becomes canceled out was not living. I suddenly understood the Universe’s plan. Brent made me want to live, to hear my heartbeat. Brent came into my life because I refused to seek out the ice-cold water on my own.
The weekend came, and I found myself looking for ways to fill my hours with something worth mentioning. I started with a morning walk at Riverside Park Duck Pond, where ducks drifted aimlessly on the frigid water. They went unnoticed by a couple on a bench, lost in a kiss, hands caressing each other’s faces softly and lovingly. Had Adam and I ever acted so passionately in public?
As with most parks, we saw many dogs. Their owners busied themselves bragging about the tricks their dog had mastered as if they were children. Adam and I generally laughed at this behavior, not understanding the need to treat pets like offspring. At one time, we considered a puppy, but the idea of watching it chew on my expensive rug after defecating on it ended any further consideration.
We walked together silently, giving me time to wonder what other people did on their weekends that made their time a little less humdrum? My mind drifted to my parents, and the wall tried to build itself up, as it often did, to protect the young girl inside of me from yearning for them. Through the years, I had trained myself to only peek over the top of that wall, allowing manageable amounts of memories to find me. My parents would forever exist, young and free, in my mind.
Adam understood me. My need to feel safe, to grip the steering wheel, bonded us together. There was an understanding between us, and I had faithfully abided the unwritten rules up to now. No one rocked the boat; in fact, no one even peeked over the sides of the vessel. We were on a journey, a smooth, comfortable ride through the unknown. I knew that we were safe if we kept our blinders on as we went through this life.
Growing up with my parents meant letting go of the steering wheel, putting down the windows, and taking our eyes off the roadway too often. They fueled their lives with risks and unpredictable occurrences. Any slow, steady moments always built up to become sharp drops, severe twists and turns, and loopholes that would make them screech in delight. As a child, I learned to do this as well, for a while. They almost sold me on it.
Walking beside Adam, I tried to imagine that other me. I glanced up at him. He must have sensed it because he smiled down at me.
“Want to get margaritas tonight? Maybe do some tequila shots?” I asked.
Adam stared at me with one eyebrow slightly lifted. “Are you okay?”
“I’m kidding.” And I was. The idea of drinking something that burnt going down and with my lack of party experience would also burn coming up disgusted me. “What about staying overnight in St. Augustine? We could eat dinner, walk around, shop.”
“Why would we spend money on a hotel when we have a perfectly good bed at home? And look, we’re walking here, right?” replied Adam.
I glanced around at the small duck pond and wondered why none of the ducks seemed to want to fly away.
“You’re right.”
Adam took my hand. “Is something bothering you, Skylar?”
“I guess work is getting to me.”
“It always does this time of year. It will pass, as it always does.”
I reminded myself that I chose Adam because of his tame and predictable nature and tried to push the nagging thoughts from my mind. But I feared that my contented feelings were wavering on becoming seriously and sadly mundane. I had to keep trying to breathe new life into us.
Sunday morning, I woke early and did laundry. As always, I folded the clothes in my specific way and sorted them by color in their respective drawers and closets. I pulled out chicken breasts to thaw, checked our vegetable supply, and even dusted off a bottle of chardonnay. I would prepare our dinner after returning from the adventure I planned while Adam slept.
As I settled on which marinade to use, Adam shuffled into the kitchen, wearing his flannel pajamas and slippers.
“You’re up early.”
“I know. I have a plan.”
“Oh, good God, Skylar. It’s Sunday, a day of rest, remember?” The day of rest had nothing to do with his religious beliefs and everything to do with enjoying nothingness.
“Resting can be interpreted in many ways. We’re going to rent beach bikes and ride along the beach until we find the perfect place for lunch. Then, when we are good and tired, you can come home and rest while I cook dinner.”
“It’s forty degrees outside, Skylar.”
“That’s because it’s still early. The forecast says it’ll get into the sixties. It’s a perfect day for a bike ride on the beach.”
Adam gave me a quizzical look before speaking. “How about the movies? We can go to a matinee and save some money.”
I couldn’t deny my disappointment, but I nodded my approval as I poured the marinade over the frozen, bland chicken.
At work on Monday, I found that when my brain sought out a break from numbers, I was more aware of everyone around me. Who were they outside of the office? I never truly cared before; however, unfamiliar competitiveness seeped into my otherwise tame demeanor, and I knew that my Duck Pond adventure was not winning any contest.
Brent’s voice drifted throughout the office and reached my cubicle as he addressed Beth.
“Good morning, Beth. How was your weekend visiting your daughter?”
Beth was always going on about her daughter attending college in Gainesville as if she were attending Yale.
“Wonderful. We even managed to find some time to hike inside a giant sinkhole called Devil’s Millhopper. Ever hear of it?”
“Can’t say that I have. Is it worth the ride out to Gainesville?” “Throw in a lunch, and you’ll have a nice day trip.”
“I might just do that sometime.”
A giant sinkhole trumps a duck pond in anyone’s book.
Then there was Trish, who spent her weekend researching vacation ideas that she said would begin, “The moment I sign my last tax return of the season.”
“So, what place is winning?” Brent asked.
“I think the Cayman Islands. We’re going to swim with the stingrays, I believe.”
“Aren’t you adventurous?”
“I try to be anyway,” Trish said with the voice of a mother drowning in her mundane life.
Maybe she would share her research with me, but since Adam wouldn’t go to St. Augustine, I highly doubted we would be running off to the Cayman Islands together. Then again, maybe he was right. Weren’t stingrays dangerous?
Brent even tried to make small talk with Bruce, perhaps unaware that Bruce was the one person in the office more boring than me. Brent seemed unaware of the fact that Bruce consistently refused to engage in needless conversation. At one time, Bruce interacted with us more often, but many years had passed since then. I guess going through what he did could change a man.
Besides our occasional dreams of the future, time passed slowly and uneventfully in the office. Each day I tried to swallow the plain oatmeal life served me. Except now, it had become so dried out I found myself searching for the orange juice that would help me wash it down before I choked.
It was on a Friday; I remember because even during tax season, Bruce allowed us to wear jeans on Fridays. That was unless a client was coming into the office. I never chose to wear jeans because I wanted to appear professional and prepared for the unexpected. Furthermore, I felt that letting people see me in jeans allowed them into my personal life a tad, but the main reason was that I didn’t own any jeans. On the other hand, Liz always wore tight jeans that accentuated the fact that her thighs didn’t come close to touching, which is, in reality, a turn-off to men. Adam even told me that he preferred women to have healthy curves rather than strut around on toothpicks. The conversation may have gone a bit more like me saying, “Would you want me to be as thin as Liz?”
“You know that girl in my office that’s practically anorexic, or like me?”
“Like you.”
So, there you have it. Men like girls with some meat on their bones.
The Friday I am referring to sticks out in my mind because it’s the first time my path crossed Brent’s outside of the office. That Friday, I pulled up to the stoplight, and there he was, sitting on a motorcycle. I would refer to the motorcycle’s make and model, except Brent’s body covered the logo making it impossible to see past his physique. And let’s face it, I’ve never been much of a biker.
I found it quite impossible, though, to ignore the familiar tight-fitting jeans “painted” on the calves that were the size of my forearm. My initial reaction was to think, “that little ho!” After acknowledging that I might be overreacting, and it wasn’t polite to assume that cleavage-wielding engaged woman was a ho. Did I mention she was engaged? I tried to erase the thought from my mind.
My eyes drifted to her arms wrapped around Brent’s waist so tightly that I’m sure it was irritating him. I mean, really. They sat stopped at a stoplight. Did she think she was going to fly off? She said something with a stupid adolescent grin pasted across her face, and he tilted his head slightly to catch her words; a small smile lifted the corners of his mouth. I focused on the curve of his lips, which I assumed to be soft, and the five o’clock shadow that slightly peeked through.
I had become lost in some thought—I can’t quite remember now what it might have been— when a horn brought me back. My mouth dropped open in embarrassment when I realized that the horn was directed at me. Unfortunately, my officemates realized it, too. For a moment, I locked eyes with Liz, my open gaping mouth, and her smirk-like grin engaged in a face-off. I found the gas pedal and fled.
That weekend I decided to do some shopping. Many stores were running sales on jeans since we were so deep into the winter months that everyone was already dreaming of the weather giving way to spring. I mean really, the deals on jeans were incredible, and being a numbers person, it only made sense to get a couple of pairs.
Spring fever took over. I found tops that were way too inexpensive to pass up. The problem was that the styles were changing. Every shirt I picked up seemed to be cut lower in the bosom area than they had on my last shopping excursion. Not to mention that I always manage to add on a few pounds during tax season due to sitting and munching at my desk a bit more. Apparently, the weight had gone directly to “my girls” because they seemed to stick right out.
Knowing that I would be losing the weight soon enough, I found it appropriate to buy the daring attire. I figured I could wear it around the house for Adam’s amusement.
The following Friday, after much deliberation, I wore my new jeans. It really did make sense. Why should I appear pretentious to the people I work with by not conforming? The unfortunate thing about my jeans was that I could not find a darn thing to go with them and ended up wearing my new blue shirt with a crossover style that dipped dangerously low for the office. If I could have only found a darn pin, I would have pinned it a bit. It was kind of fun, I must admit, seeing Adam’s eyes follow me around the kitchen as I prepared my lunch. Energy bounced between us that I had forgotten was once a part of us.
Strutting into the office, I felt everyone’s eyes on me and heard the whispers. Holding my head high, I continued walking toward my cubicle, confident that their whispered conversation came from envy, as most secrets tend to do. Even Liz said something that must have been of a jealous nature because she and Patty, her partner in poor judgment, laughed. I’m assuming they were surprised by what I modestly concealed all these years.
Generally, everyone arrived in the office around seven during tax season, which held true this day, except for Brent. I only noticed because I passed his cubicle on the way to get coffee. I was a bit concerned because good temps are hard to find. Not to mention, my workload increases if one of them quits. This thought began to consume me because I already had enough work to do.
My irritation grew as I watched the clock incessantly. The minutes ticked away steadily, and my work started to suffer. Darn temps! I got up to use the bathroom for the third time. It could seem like I was pacing if anyone were paying attention, but that wasn’t the case. Unless someone had lived in the shoes of an accountant, they had no idea how stressful tax season could be. As I meandered out of the bathroom for the third time, I halted to the sound of Brent’s voice.
“Good morning, Skylar.”
“Good morning, Brent. Late start this morning, isn’t it?” I inadvertently expressed a boss-like tone. To be fair, I had worked in the office far longer than most of the employees, making me a senior in some ways.
“I’m very sorry I didn’t run my client’s appointment by you, Ms. Skylar,” Brent said. “I will remember to do so next time.”
Did anyone ever get angry with him when he cast his half-smile their way, a smile that could warm a cold stone like blanketing moss?
On one of my visits to the breakroom, I found Bruce uncharacteristically sitting at the table in the breakroom drinking his coffee.
“Morning,” I uttered.
“Morning,” he uttered back. As I began to pour the coffee into my cup, a sound caught my attention. I turned and saw that Brent had dropped some papers. While trying to decide if I should run to help him, I misdirected my pour, and the coffee spilled across the counter. While keeping my eye on Brent, I grabbed some paper towels and wiped up the mess. As I headed to the garbage can with the wet paper towels, I tripped on a chair leg and nearly fell over.
I finished cleaning my spill at the precise time that Brent finished cleaning his mess, which was a good thing because I didn’t want to waste more time straightening someone else’s paperwork. As I headed out of the breakroom, I noticed Bruce watching me intently. At the time, embarrassment was my overpowering emotion; however, looking back, I should have felt something else. For it was at that very moment, I feel certain, that I became the target. I had exposed my jugular to the desperate lion, and the hunt unknowingly began. Unaware of the danger, I went back to the pasture to graze behind the tall reeds thinking all was as it should be.