I dozed off during the meeting again. It's a good thing I sat in the back this time. Every Monday morning starts the same way. Our entire department gathers in the conference room for coffee, doughnuts, and a "pep talk". The coffee is lousy, and the pep talks are worse; at least the doughnuts are good.
"Hey, Beck," Joel whispered, elbowing me. "You're drooling."
"Shut it, dork," I muttered sleepily. "I'm trying to get some beauty rest."
"Eh, you don't need any. Now wake up. I'm not in the mood to recap for you today," he replied.
"Geez, go get some coffee, grumpy," I teased.
Joel is my favorite person at work. It's really a shame I don't date co-workers; he'd be perfect. He's cute in the geeky, skinny, Jewish way that I like, and he's got the sarcastic humor down pat. We're good friends in the office, though we've never spent time outside of work.
"Yeah, 'cause drinking rat poison is the best way to start the day," he retorted cheerfully, pushing his wire-rimmed glasses up the bridge of his nose.
I let out a rude snort, and several heads turned to glare at me. I gave my best what's-your-issue look and tried not to blush.
I try and act like the evil looks of my co-workers don't bug me, but the really get to me sometimes. I know what they think of me, with my wild curly hair, big breasts, and red lipstick. I've never been great at fitting in at work; thank God I'm great at my job, or I'd never get any respect. I just don't see the point in kissing ass all day, but sometimes that attitude works against me.
"Rebekah, is there something you'd like to share with the group?" my boss, Sheila, asked sunnily. She's always perky, even when she's sarcastic; I loathe her. Who the hell is chipper on a Monday morning?
"Um, no, sorry. Just trying to clear my throat," I said, pasting a huge, fake grin on my face.
"All right, then!" she exclaimed. She's always exclaiming. Her life seems like one big exclamation point. "Now Randy's going to give us an update on our first quarter profit margins."
Randy Watson rose from his chair and lumbered like a behemoth to the front of the room. I know it's rude to comment on people's weight, and God knows that I'm no delicate flower, but Randy is huge. He literally makes the floor shake when he walks. Joel calls it the emergency alert system; the rumbling gives you enough time to get to safety. Did I mention that Randy has horrendous breath? Well, he does. It's unreal. It could incapacitate an elephant.
"I feel bad for the people up front," Joel cracked.
"Nah, I'm sure they've all be put out of their misery by now," I said, slouching further into my chair. God, I wanted to go back to sleep.
"Do you think anyone would notice if I feel asleep again?" I asked, quietly yawning.
"Since half the room is knocked out by Randy's breath, probably not."
"Good," I said, laying my head on Joel's shoulder. His cologne is really nice.
"If you drool on my shirt, you'll pay," he threatened.
"How will you make me pay?" I murmured, half-asleep already.
"You'll owe me a date," he said rapidly.
I bolted upright, at once wide awake, and stared at him. "What?" I asked, somewhat stupidly.
He flushed bright red, but kept eye contact with me. "I said, you'll owe me a date."
My jaw dropped, then I scowled. "That's not funny."
"Wasn't meant to be."
I was silent for a moment. My brain was trying to process this new information. I'd had no idea that Joel liked me as anything more than a friend. We bickered, we bantered, we made fun of dorky co-workers; that was all, or so I'd thought. Granted, I was rather clueless about men, but I was completely flummoxed.
"You know I don't date co-workers," I finally replied, unable to think of anything else to say.
"Why not?" he asked, sounding like the soul of rationalism.
I opened my mouth, paused, and tried to think of the right words. "Because," I said slowly, "office relationships don't end well."
"Says who? Human resources?"
"Among others, yes."
Joel rolled his eyes. "Geez, Beck. I'm not asking you to marry me. It's just a date. You know, dinner, a movie, light conversation? It's not a serious commitment."
But that was my problem, and I didn't know how to verbalize it without sending him running for the hills. I could see a serious future with Joel. He was everything I wanted in a man. How awful would it be if we dated, then broke up. I'd have to see him every weekday. Work was hellish enough already!
"Joel, we really shouldn't…" I trailed off, sounding wimpy even to myself.
"Come on, Beck. I'll even let you pick the movie," he cajoled, smiling his heart-stopping grin.
"It's not smart," I said, trying to sound sage, and failing.
"Just one date."
"Let me think about it." He was wearing down my resistance. Damn him for being so cute!
"What's to think about? Do you want to or not?"
I looked at him, a million scenarios whirling through my brain. I saw us having a hot, illicit affair. Breaking up. Getting married and having babies. So many possibilities loomed in front of me.
I'm not a risk-taker by nature. An outsider, yes, but not a girl who thrives on living by the seat of my pants. But the thought occurred to me—what if I missed all of my future happiness by playing it safe? And his question was so simple; did I want to or not?
I took a deep breath and answered, nervous and excited. "I do."