Authors Notes: - "Here he comes to save the day! IT-man is on his way!"
I pounded on the side of the computer screen and the image on it wavered as a result. Then I entered my password in again, and again got the same error message: 'Invalid Password'. I knew it wasn't invalid, it was the same goddamned password I'd been using for a year, my mother's name: Joyce.
"You stupid computer! It's not invalid!" I kicked the tower sitting next to my feet and heard a satisfying thunk. "Work damn it!"
It was eleven at night and I was the only one left in the building outside of a few janitors. Everyone else had gone home hours ago, but I had to stay to finish a report that I had to deliver the next day at ten in the morning. I couldn't work on it at home because I didn't own a computer. Most people consider it a little strange that I work for one of the largest computer manufacturing companies in the world but I don't like, trust or own a computer of my own. Even more ironically, I was in marketing. It was my job to come up with ways to convince people to buy a computer when I was unwilling to do it myself.
I never bought one for several reasons. One, seconds after bringing home a new computer it was obsolete. Two, hackers. Three, people put too much faith in them. The world was all but run by computers and yet no one was bothered by this fact. One little computer virus could bring down whole industries. That didn't mean I couldn't put aside my feelings for the damned little things and pimp them out like cheap whores. My father's a lawyer and my mother's a psychologist. I was used to putting up a fake front.
"Work or so help me god, I'm going to take you out back and beat you to bits with a bat!" I threatened it as I smacked the side of the monitor again.
Out of the corner of my eye, a head poked over the edge of my tall cubicle wall. I turned in surprise and stared at the odd man. He had brownish blondish hair that wasn't too short but had enough volume that it fluffed up around his head, giving it the illusion of shortness. His eyes were a generic blue and his face was slender and surprisingly handsome. He smiled at me, looking like a shy teenager.
"Computer problems?" he asked in a voice that was way too deep for his slender boyish face.
"Are you an IT guy?" I asked.
He nodded. "Of sorts."
"Thank god!" I exclaimed, pushing back from the desk. "Could you please talk some sense into this beast? It won't accept my password."
"That's all?" He chuckled. "From the pounding you were giving it I thought it was coming onto you."
I laughed a little and nearly fell out of my chair when the rest of him appeared in the opening of my cubicle. He was wearing yellow and blue plaid straight leg pants that were so bright my eyes about bled upon seeing them. Completely contrasting with his pants was a dark chocolate-brown stereotypical cowboy shirt, complete with mock pocket stitching made of red thread. Still more contrast came in the form of sensible Italian leather wingtips. Obviously he took advantage of the company's lack of a dress code.
He walked past me and squatted in front of the keyboard. I continued gawking at his bizarre and unholy getup. He seemed oblivious to my shock and horror.
"I'm going to reset the password with my own, then you can change it to whatever you like," he explained as he backed out of the current screen and was abruptly thrust onto a completely black screen save for a single blinking line. Then he entered a flurry of information that I couldn't catch and was just as quickly sent back to the login screen. He logged on and then hit 'change password' and backed away from the desk.
"There you go."
"What the hell did you do?" I asked in awe as I scooted forward and changed my password.
"Well… to put it simply I hacked into the computer and changed the password." He shrugged sheepishly with a bashful smile.
"You're a hacker?" I asked warily, looking him over for an access card. I found it hanging from the edge of his hideous shirt. He wasn't wearing an ID card though, which meant he wasn't IT.
"Well… yes and no." He shrugged again.
"You're also not IT. So what do you do?"
"I'm… sorta in a management position."
"What's your name?" I asked, turning away from my computer to face him.
"I'm John, John Hadden." He extended a slender long fingered hand.
"Hi John, I'm Melissa Hedrick." I said as I accepted his hand.
John's grip was gentle, almost weak, as if he was overly afraid to hurt me. That seemed ridiculous considering I probably weighed more than him. Heck, he was skinny enough that I could probably bench press him.
"Look, how about we go to the bar and I'll buy you a drink. To repay you for the rescue mission." I suggested as we took our respective hands back.
"I don't know, you're probably busy." John mumbled.
"I'm the one inviting you." I laughed. " Come on, you went out of your way to help me. It's the least I can do to pay you back."
"My girlfriend wouldn't like it much," he stammered, his cheeks reddening slightly.
I looked him over, shocked that he'd found someone. Not that he was unattractive or anything like that. More so that it seemed impossible for him to be capable of pursuing someone. She must have bagged him, not the other way around.
"Well, my husband wouldn't be too happy either," I said, pointing to my wedding ring. "But it's not like I'm asking you out on a date. Just a social outing with a coworker."
He thought about it, then nodded. "Okay."
"All right, then." I turned to the computer and shut it down; I could always finish my report in the morning before the meeting. It would be a little rushed but I did some of my best work when I was in a rush. "How about we walk over to O'Brien's. They've got a good selection of beers there."
"Okay," he repeated.
I grabbed my purse and turned off the monitor just as the tower finished shutting down. John stepped out of the way, his hands thrust into his pockets like a nervous little kid. I shook my head in amusement and led the way out. He silently trailed behind me. The nighttime security guard nodded to us as we passed his station on the way out. I nodded back and John waved with a friendly smile. The guard smiled back, apparently familiar with the skinny little nerd. He didn't look like management material and even if he was a manager of some kind, why would he be at work so late?
We walked the almost completely deserted parking lot and then jaywalked across the empty street. Right across the street from the large squat building we worked in was O'Brien's. It was a pseudo-traditional Irish pub and had lots of green neon clinging to the awnings and around the door. The sigh was made of the same green neon and hung at an awkward angle on the roof above the door. It wasn't completely on its side, but it was close. Why it hung like that was beyond me. It wasn't like it was falling off, no it was purposely put on the side of the roof like that.
Inside there were a surprising number of people still there. Some were people I recognized from work. I wasn't going to judge them for being in a bar on Monday at eleven o'clock. After all, I was just getting in.
I chose a spot on the far end of the bar, one seat away from where it curved around to meet the wall and faced the door. John hesitated then sat to my right, in the seat just next to the bend. He grabbed a nearby ashtray and pulled it towards him as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a Zippo lighter. Just after he'd put a cigarette in his mouth and right before lighting it he looked at me curiously.
"Will it bother you if I smoke?"
"Nope," I said, shaking my head. "My husband smokes like a chimney, so I don't really mind."
"Ok." He said, flicking on the lighter and taking a drag of the cig as the tip burned.
"For some reason I didn't peg you as a smoker." I said conversationally to him.
"I've been smoking for years," he replied with a shrug.
"What, since you were sixteen?" I joked.
He laughed slightly, looking embarrassed. "Yeah."
"Damn…. And your parents didn't care?"
John hesitated. "My mother wasn't too happy but my dad figured I was old enough to make my own decisions. He as also a smoker though."
"Make your own decisions? At sixteen? Damn." I shook my head in shock.
"They let me do a lot. I think it was because I'm a genius," he said thoughtfully and very off-handedly.
"You're a genius?" I asked with a stifled chuckle.
He nodded. "Yeah. It's no big deal though. Just because I'm more intelligent than the average person doesn't mean I'm smarter."
John thought about it for a moment then shrugged self consciously, as if he was a little uncomfortable talking about his superiority. It was considerably preferable to him being out and out proud of it. "Well, I don't really have much common sense and my social skills are a bit stunted. That and for the life of me, I just can't do things the easy way. I always find the hardest path to solving problems."
"Ah, you over-think things." I surmised.
He nodded. "Yeah. It's kind of embarrassing."
"It can't be that bad." I said sympathetically, nudging him with an elbow.
"There was this one time I was playing Scrabble with friends and I didn't realize I had the right letters to spell rat. I kept trying to spell radiation, with what was on the board and in my hand." He explained while staring at the ashtray.
"That's not that bad…"
Just then the bartender came over and looked sternly at John. "You got some ID on you, kid?"
John looked up at him with absolute shock. He fumbled for his wallet, which was in his back pocket and held it out to the bartender. The older gentleman took it and flipped it open and grunted in surprise as he examined the license.
"You don't look that old," he said doubtfully, staring at John.
"It's the cucumber slices?" John suggested ineptly.
"Right…" He handed the wallet back and looked to me. "What'll you have?"
"I'll just have a Bud Light. What about you John?" I asked, looking to my right.
"Yeah, John, what'll you have?" The bartender asked with a glower, as if daring John to order something alcoholic.
"I'll just have some ice water." He replied, shrinking into himself.
The bartender grunted and walked off to fill our orders. John relaxed a little and glanced to me. "See, no social skills."
"I thought it was adorably inept," I replied playfully.
He chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. "I guess I'd rather my ineptitude be described as adorable instead of stupid."
The bartender returned and put down our drinks. I got a frosted glass and the bottle of requested beer, while John just got a glass of ice water. He took the glass and sipped at it. I slowly poured my beer into the frosted glass while tipping it to the side slightly. More foam than I liked formed at the top but I kept pouring the beer until it threatened to spill over the edges, then I put down the glass to let it settle down. John puffed on his cigarette and occasionally tapped ashes off the end into the ashtray.
"So John, tell me about your girlfriend? What's she like?" I asked as I watched the head of my beer slowly dissipate.
"Well… um…" He hesitated and I could see him wracking his brain for what to say. After a few seconds of careful consideration he smiled and said: "She's great."
"Gee, that's detailed," I teased him.
He blushed and shrugged. "Alright then… she's got this great giggle that just makes me smile every time I hear it. It's like the most wonderful music that even Bach or Beethoven couldn't reproduce with the most beautiful symphony. Her hair is cotton candy pink and smells like bubble gum. She's got this great smile that just melts me…" He sighed and then blushed a bright red. "Sorry, I didn't meant to ramble on like that…"
"No, that's okay. It's very sweet. I just wish my husband would say things like that about me." I sighed remorsefully.
"Maybe he does, and you just don't hear him," he suggested.
"I can't really picture him sitting at the bar with his buddies waxing philosophically about my traits, good or bad. I'm sure the kindest thing he's said about me was I gave him a beautiful daughter." I grumbled as I picked up my beer.
"Most American men don't understand the importance of communicating their emotions to their loved ones," John explained.
I paused before taking a sip and stared at him like he'd grown a second head. Which he might as well have after saying such a strange thing. "What kind of man are you?"
He looked startled and confused. "Uh… I don't know… the nerdy kind?"
I burst into laughter and had to put down my beer before I spilled it all over myself. "That's not what I meant!"
"Sorry!" he exclaimed, looking apologetic.
"I'm just surprised that you'd say something like that. I thought that went against the unwritten rules of men: Never say something smart and truthful about men to a woman." I shrugged. "Or something like that."
John quickly shrugged in apology. "Sorry. I didn't know that rule existed."
"Boy, you're a strange guy." I chuckled and attempted to take a drink of my beer again.
"Sorry," he apologized again.
"No need to keep saying sorry." I reassured him.
"That's what Elwyn says… then in far less kind words." He mumbled, his cigarette bobbing up and down as he spoke.
"He a friend of yours?" I asked.
He nodded. "Yeah, sorta."
"Well, we don't hang out, or talk unless it's really important. We're more like business associates, really." John looked almost sad as he spoke.
"I assume you have real friends," I said to him, trying to distract him from an obviously sensitive subject.
"Yeah, two… I mean… one." He frowned. "I guess two."
I chuckled. "Okay, why the recount?"
"Well… the second one… Seth… seems to only hang out with me to torture me," he explained with something near a scowl.
"Gee, sounds like a wonderful friend."
"He insists he's my friend but he… just keeps teasing and tormenting me." He sighed and stamped out his now spent cigarette then promptly lit up another one.
"Some people show affection in strange ways," I pointed out.
"No kidding," he grumbled.
"So you only have two really close friends?" I asked thoughtfully. "That's two more than I have…"
"Why is that?" John asked looking at me in concern.
"Well, having a kid really kills your social life. I never go out anymore, unless it's to do kiddy related things and when I do get together with people all our conversations seem to only be about your children and parenting. Hell, the most romantic thing my husband and I have done lately was get a full night's sleep when Rebecca was with her grandmother." I sighed in remorse and sank against the bar, playing with the rim of my glass with the tip of a finger.
John was silent for a moment then took a long drink from his glass. He sat it down and turned to me slightly. "But you're happy you had her, right?"
I nodded and sat up. "Of course, I always wanted to have children. She's… this wonderful little perfect thing and… She came from me. But, I do sometimes miss my old life."
"I think Rave wants kids too." John chuckled slightly.
"Rave, that's your girlfriend's name?" I asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
"Her real name is Charlotte Ravenna. But she prefers to be called Rave. She thinks Charlotte sounds silly or something. I've always called her Rave though. Calling her anything else would feel too weird." He smirked slightly, blushing a little. "Outside of pet names."
"Aww, what are some of your pet names?" I asked. "I call my husband Teddy because he's like a big fuzzy bear."
John laughed and fidgeted, turning red. He blushed a lot, I noticed. After a few seconds of hesitating he mumbled, "She calls me Johnny and I sometimes call her Bum-cakes."
"Bum-cakes!?" I nearly fell over laughing. "Why?!"
He turned even redder. "One time she tried to become a model and the guy told her, her butt was too big. I think she has a perfectly fine butt."
"How adorable." I giggled and tried to stifle it with more beer.
John shrugged reflexively and pushed some of the condensation from his glass along the bar, making symbols with it. "It's just our little thing."
"I think it's perfectly adorable. Much cuter than 'Honey' which is what my husband calls me."
"I once heard that pet names are the way men subtlety say 'I love you' to their partners. Apparently they don't start using pet names until the relationship is really serious and maybe they use that as a substitute because they feel emasculated by expressing emotions." He made a trio of interlocked circles with the dew from his glass as he spoke. "Maybe because being emotional is traditional the role of women and men as seen as weak when they show emotions outside of anger."
"Wow, I never saw it that way." I stared at his young face in surprise. He looked barely old enough to legally drink but he was considerably smarter than his age suggested. There was also something like wisdom in the way he spoke. Though I could tell he was plenty ignorant and completely in the dark about certain things. It was an amusing contrast.
My cell phone went off and I fumbled with my purse to get it out. I checked the number and saw it was my husband. "Sorry John, I've got to take this call."
He nodded in understanding and continued to nurse his cigarettes and water. I turned on the cell phone and put it to my ear.
"What is it, Teddy?" I asked trying not to sound short with him.
"Where are you, Honey?" he asked in concern. "You said you were staying late but it's almost midnight."
"I'm just out with a coworker," I explained.
"A male coworker?" His voice turned suspicious.
I rolled my eyes. "Yes, and we just finished having sex in my cramped cubicle with the janitors watching. Yep, I'm turned on by his complete lack of style and oh-so-sexy skinny bod."
John glanced at me, then at his clothes. He plucked at the edge of his shirt and mumbled, "I thought this shirt went well with these pants."
"You don't have to be so sarcastic," my husband snapped at me.
"Look, you don't have to be so jealous. He helped fix my computer so I offered to buy him a drink for his troubles. All we've been doing for the past hour is sitting here talking about our respective relationships." I informed him curtly. "I'd never cheat on you and you know that. And not just because of Rebecca."
He was silent for a moment then he said softly. "Come home, Honey. Rebecca can't sleep and neither can I."
I sighed, unable to resist his needy charms once again. "All right, I'm on my way."
"Thanks," he whispered and hung up. I put away the phone and shook my head. Despite his tough linebacker looks, he was nothing but a big softy. The biggest softy I've ever known. It was part of the reason I loved him.
I turned to John and gave him an apologetic look. "Sorry to cut our 'date' short, but my baby needs me."
"I understand," he said with a smile.
"And I wasn't talking about Rebecca," I chuckled, sliding off the stool and shouldering my bag.
John chuckled, the sound still too startlingly deep for such a slender frame. He needed to pack on a dozen or so more pounds of muscle before the sound matched him.
I patted his back and threw a ten on the bar and left. He stayed seated, watching me go and smoking his cigarette. I waved goodbye just before the door swung shut. He waved back, giving me that awkward and shy smile I'd already come to expect from him. I left the bar behind and crossed the street, heading to my car in the parking lot.The End