Our boss Frank Pearson sent out a random email to our department that Monday, a short work week with Thanksgiving in a few days. We worked in the ad department for a leading appliance retailer, and in those sloppy matter-of-fact phrases without any punctuation, Pearson wrote: “Short notice guys have an idea meeting offsite tomorrow 9 a.m. Starbucks. Bring laptops.”
Weird. We all had experience about the big rush for Friday, or D-Day, “The day after Thanksgiving,” and of course–we all had been through it last year. But Pearson was a newbie and came from the car industry, had lots of ideas and seemed cool enough. He was young, too, like twenty-eight or nine, but you could tell being a manager had aged him a little.
Linda Felton replied back to ALL:
“Nice! Can we dress down? Also, you still want me to help control the stampede of the wild buffalo early Friday morning?”
“Just want to make sure everyone knows their role and last push for all the advertisement,” continued Frank. “All hands on deck! Linda, you rest up. The sales department should have that covered. Jeans the rest of the week.”
My coworker, Leslie Blare, scooted her chair up to my cube. She sat to my right, in the newer cube, eco-friendly, as I still worked in one from the late 1980s. Leslie insinuated confidence and influence, perhaps an attraction toward me. I was dragging that morning after I tossed and turned in the night, unable to get a sound sleep. Molly, my beagle-mix, had a rough night snorting and breathing. She was almost fourteen years old. My mind jumped from her fading health back to Leslie, then to Pearson’s email again.
“So cool,” said Leslie. “Pearson must’ve read what I sent him yesterday.”
“I made suggestions,” she said.
“You suggested to Pearson that we meet at Starbucks? Why?”
“No,” said Leslie. “It was a forward on office productivity. An article about how creativity and performance increase when taking your teams to offsite locations every now and then.”
“Hey, anything to break up the monotony around here.”
“You want to ride together?” Leslie asked.
I did not look at her but caught a glimpse of her face from the corner of my eye. I imagined that she was pressing lips together waiting on my reply. Those lips, I thought. I would rather be with Leslie on a date than be talking business crap, or be compressed together with other employees at a noisy Starbucks. I can do that on my own time, right?
“Which one?” I asked.
“Which, what?” Leslie said.
“Which Starbucks are we going?”
“I don’t know. Good question.”
I clicked on Frank’s email thread and stared at the word offsite. A paragraph below read: “Meet at the Starbucks off Tillison Ave. Just 5 minutes from our office. I’m sure everyone knows where at.”
I shook my head.
“It’s amazing how our boss, probably making five times my salary, does not know proper punctuation and grammar. How the hell does that happen, Les?”
“I want to tell him, but would feel weird about it.”
I swiveled my chair to her.
“So you want me to pick you up?” I said. “I’ll drive.”
“You read my mind, Trevor. In the morning, just come by my house. I’ll text you the directions. Cool?”
For some reason, Leslie did not drive. She told me she has her license, but does not drive and does not care to own a car. And I could tell in the seriousness on her face that she didn’t want to go into the reasons. Leslie was married to a guy named Winton Blare. He was ten years her senior. I think Leslie told me that her husband was forty- six, but from pictures, the poor man looked much older. She referred to him as her “Soon-to-be ex.”
It felt odd that I was attracted to a married woman. It had been going on for the last three months. I’d flirted with her, here and there, but didn’t want to pursue Leslie any further knowing that she was married to Winton. In a way, I don’t think she was my type. She seemed spoiled, perhaps too goofy and too jokey for me, not to mention way too positive and happy-go-lucky, unfazed by any kind of wrongdoing throughout her early thirtysomething life. She and Winton didn’t have any kids together. He had a daughter, Amy, I think around the age of twenty, from a previous marriage. Amy lived in Chicago, according to Leslie.
But it was true that Leslie had a certain radiance about her, as if her attractiveness usurped feelings and lust into a gigantic bag that fitted tightly around my head and could not remove for some reason. I wondered if she really meant that she and Winton were getting a divorce, or if that’s what she really wanted but was just kidding?
The next morning a layer of fog blanketed a mist over my windshield. The morning news said there were school delays. But the fog had lifted, and I was on my way to pick up Leslie. I sent her a text message that I was leaving and on my way over. A few seconds later, I saw that Leslie had replied. She sent me her address and street, and I had a vague idea where it was, but I entered it into my phone map and it came up.
Stoneybrooke Ridge was where doctors, lawyers, and dentists lived. I had no clue on what Winton did for a living, but I’m sure that he was well-off, or doing great for himself financially. I knew that Leslie couldn’t afford to live in these houses on her salary. As soon as I turned into the addition, a cop car flew by me. All lights. No siren. For a second, I thought he was after me for going through the yellow light that magically turned red as I plowed through the intersection a mile back.
Then another cop car followed. What was going on and what could be this urgent? When I got to Leslie’s house, a total of three cop cars were in front, and my heart began to pound, not just in my chest but the sound of it in my ears, the tinge of the pulse through my jugular, the tightening of my eyes as I squinted over my glasses. I could have been in “flight or fight,” ready to floor the gas pedal or get out and run just in case some lunatic came my way.
I heard a tap on my side of the car window. Leslie stood there holding her coffee mug and pointed her thumb toward the house behind her.
“Hey, my house is across the street. I saw your car.”
“What’s going on?” I said, getting out.
“We heard three gun shots at the house. Winton 911’d and here we are. Go figure. The Kleengers have always had issues. Domestic. Problems with their teen son. I don’t know. This is not the first time.”
A man hurried up to the car. My eyes roved straight at Winton’s giant forehead and blondish tufts of receding hair; he pulled his tan robe over his chest, had on jeans, and stood stoutly in grass-stained Converse tennis shoes, sockless, half smiling and eating a piece of toast.
“You must be Trevor Patterson? I’m Winton. Thanks for driving Leslie. I am deep in meetings this morning, conference calls and shit, or I would have taken her.”
“No problem,” I said, peering into their garage and seeing a silver Jaguar. “Are we OK to be here? You need to give a statement to the police?”
“I already did,” said Winton, taking another chomp out of his toast. “As far as I know, I think Mrs. Kleenger shot him, her husband, Stanley.”
“Hey, the dickhead had it coming,” said Leslie. “The way he treated Jill—”
Leslie was dressed in a gray parka, blue blouse. It was not cold or really warm, and we had had an unusually warm November. Today was a little chillier. You could see puffs of our breath. Leslie leaned into her husband and gave him a peck on his clean-shaven cheek.
“Bye, honey. Don’t be mad if Trevor and I jet to Costa Rica on your dime.”
“You kids have fun,” said Winton. “Hey Trevor, Leslie mentioned you guys are spending the day offsite. I think it’s a good idea, get a fresh look at your work.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m sure we’ll be more creative.”
So bizarre. I felt crestfallen. It was as if at that moment I was hanging from a small plane and would be sucked back into the wing after my chute malfunctioned.
Leslie’s aqua flash of fingernails hit against her coffee mug, and then her wrist bracelets clanged. I got the feeling that she and Winton were fine, that no divorce was imminent. I was cool with it, even though I would not mind running off to, as she said jokingly—Costa Rica. I would enjoy it with Leslie.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “Winton can be strangely intrusive, overly optimistic.”
“Oh no, I didn’t take him that way. He seems like an easy-going kind of guy. Very laid back.”
“We both are. I don’t know if our marriage will work. I don’t know about things anymore, but I’m happy where I am in my life. He makes good money, runs a division for Marshlon Pharma. You know, the big drug company? He’s been there for twenty some years. I can’t imagine being on my own, living in a smaller house or in an apartment. But we’ll see. We do keep things simple. We really do have a good relationship, but sometimes I feel out of love, out of how it was when we first met and how he made me feel. All of that seems replaced by material things, the threat that it all could be taken away.”
“I know what you mean,” I said.
“I like you, Trevor. If I was not married to Winton, I would definitely be interested in seeing you in a more than a-friend-kind-of-way. You know?”
She put her hand on my hand, but her fingers slid into the ridge of my fingers and down to my wrist.
“Turn right,” she said. “Starbucks is down there. You See it?”
“I see it. I know.”
“I think this will be fun. I’ll buy our drinks.”
“Pearson should buy. You think?”
She looked at me for a second or two, but it felt longer, as if she’d found some flaw in my face and was wondering about how that had happened or if it had been there before and she just didn’t notice, or if I was older than I said I was, or perhaps not as “attractive” as she once thought.
“Yes, he should. Maybe he will. I don’t see his jeep. We’re a little early.”
“Yes, we are, but that’s OK.”
“Let’s just sit here.”
We leaned in together with our chins touching, our lips close, and I could taste her gloss and it happened fast—we started to make out.
She eased away.
I felt my pulse again, in my neck and around the temples, my eyes blurry for some odd reason, the strobe of red and blue police lights flashing through my mind from earlier.
“Let’s stop,” she said. “I can’t.”
“I’m good. You good?”
We got out and walked inside Starbucks and we were the only ones there from the office, and we waited for ten minutes, but Leslie got antsy and said she could not wait any longer and went to the front and ordered our drinks.
“Hazelnut Latte,” I said. “Make it a Grande.”
A few seconds later Frank pulled up in his red Jeep Wrangler. Mel Farmington, another coworker, parked his Chevy Malibu beside my car. Jenny Dixon showed up. Linda Felton. We had most of the marketing department. Frank was smiling and walking with more pep in his step and had his Mac laptop curled under his arm.
“This is great,” he said. “This is awesome. It’s almost here. D-Day. Let’s all just relax, just work on whatever it is you were working on, and try to finish all ads today. Happy Thanksgiving. I will reimburse your drinks. Order as many as you want.”
Leslie pulled her chair around and handed me my latte. She tapped her finger on her phone and then to my arm. I read her phone screen, a message from Winton:
“It was not Jill. It was their son Eric. They arrested Eric. Stanley is dead.”
And there it was again, that long stare from her as if my flaw popped out and Leslie found it interesting.
“He deserved it,” she said. “He was an awful, awful man.”