Coming into the classroom, Barb sees him at the snack table, plate bending under cupcakes, cookies, and potato chips. He turns his exotic eyes on her, their soft almond shape so contrary to his pale skin and ginger hair. He lifts a hand, gives her the slightest of waves. Mouths the words, “Looking good.”
Irritated, she pivots, spying a single available chair in the second row. He flops down in front. His bulk overwhelms the rusty folding chair. Legs sprawl into the aisle. He wears his Dockers a little too tight, his button-down untucked, sleeves rolled up, a stain on the placket. His name is Terry.
She’s always worked in an office, first as a temp, then answering phones and scheduling appointments at an air-conditioning company, eventually promoted to “office associate”, which really means “secretary”. She’s terrible with computers so her next step has to be management. She doesn’t understand what that means since her boss spends most of his days on the telephone talking to women who aren’t his wife.
The instructor has given them three of his “10 Magic Keys to Finding A Dream Job”. She’s followed each instruction to the minutest detail. Terry hasn’t embraced them at all. Still wears ill-fitting clothes, hasn’t trimmed his hair, slouches. No résumé has been turned in for peer evaluation. No list of prospective employers. It’s a puzzle why he’s even in this class.
She could help him. HR is her preferred future field. And he’s certainly lost, but he might misinterpret her intentions, and she has no desire to be tethered to another man. Certainly, she’s always been willing to offer a guiding hand, but what has it gotten her? Heartache. She must focus on career, net earnings, future retirement needs by moving to the next level in prestige, and she can’t do that unless she curbs her urge to reach out.
She glances at him. He’s watching her. He’s smiling. She turns her head away. Get a grip, she tells herself.
When Terry signed up for the “10 Magic Keys” class, his only criterion was “optimal women”. He scoped out all nine of them on Day One. The woman he picked was a beaut. Slender, blond hair pulled into a tight pony, wearing a black jacket over her t-shirt and jeans and her outfits got better, too, after Magic Key #2. If he was a boss, he’d hire her — Barbara, Barb — in a Detroit minute.
But he isn’t and he can’t and there’s no point. He should settle for the loud divorcee, though she’s really not his type. Too frumpy with gray in her hair, but she brings him jellybeans from home. Jelly Bellies. Must be something she buys for her kids and keeps in little packages inside her purse. He always takes them. She always pats his shoulder when he does. He doesn’t tell her he has access to all the candy he wants at his job if no one is looking.
The first jelly he pops into his mouth today is watermelon. He wishes it had some kind of magic properties to get Barb to stop frowning at him, but Terry doesn’t believe in magic. No abracadabra has ever given him the time of day.
He works at Target stocking shelves and helping customers. The part he hates the most is going out to collect carts, his skin so tender white in the summer. He’d like to move up, get promoted, but his boss doesn’t like him much. What he’s decided is that he needs a good woman who wants to move up.
He might have to settle for the divorcee, but he wants Barb. He thinks about her at night before he goes to sleep on his sister’s pullout sofa. Studies the pictures of her he snapped on his phone. He knows she’s interested, pretending not to be. He’s caught her looking. He wishes that damned instructor would just shut up so he can catch her eye again.
Gay Degani has had three flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Glass Woman Prize. Pure Slush Books published her collection, Rattle of Want, in 2015 and Every Day Novels serialized her suspense novel, What Came Before, in 2014. She blogs at Words in Place.
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