IN THE MORNING, she prepared to ride ADKAR’s shuttle to work and Drew spoke on the phone to his mom,
“Our flight lands at eleven-thirty. By the time we get the rental car and drive to your place, it should be 1:00 p.m.”
“That’s this Saturday, right?” said his mom.
“Yes. This Saturday, Ma. We’ll be there in two days.”
“Did you tell Alex and Molly?”
“Yeah, and I’ll remind them again today.”
“Alright. See you soon. I love you.”
“Love you too.” He ended the call.
“How is she?” said Mag.
“It’s hard to tell. She’s overwhelmed. But through the phone… I can’t see how she looks. I can’t tell how taxing this is for her.”
“It’s hard to imagine what she’s going through; I don’t know how your mom manages it.”
“That’s why I’m going there to help, because Alex and Molly aren’t doing anything. I don’t understand why they’re not at Mom’s every day. They should be there.”
“Have you talked to them about it?”
“I told you this already,” Sitting on the couch, he turned on his laptop,
“They said they’re too busy and it pisses me off. If I lived closer, I’d be at Mom’s all the time. I don’t know what the hell they’re doing. But I’m tired of them not helping.”
“They’re probably feeling overwhelmed too.”
“Why?!” Raising his hands, he squinted,
“They’re not doing anything! They’re not taking care of Mom. That’s the only thing they should be doing! What if she gets sick? She’s going crazy taking care of our dad, but no one’s caring for her!”
“I know. I was just thinking, Alex and Molly might be feeling depressed too.”
“What are you talking about?” His volume increased, “Of course they’re depressed. We’re all depressed. That doesn’t mean anything! They have to take care of our mom! That’s it!”
“Okay! I didn’t mean…”
Grabbing random items from the top of her dresser and shoving them into her bag, she realized it and breathed-in deep. Exhaling,
“I don’t know what I meant. I don’t know what you guys are going through, or how difficult this is.”
“I know what my mom is going through,”
Drew spoke calmly, “She’s going through hell. But I’ll be there soon.”
Boarding the ADKAR shuttle.
She sent an email.
I got into a small argument with Drew this morning over something we shouldn’t have argued about. Anyway, my morning is crap now. Hopefully, I’ll feel better after breakfast.
I was thinking about what you mentioned, about getting a drink after work. Maybe I can do it today. Ping me later.
Hope your morning is good.
Arriving at ADKAR’s café, she waited in line for breakfast and her phone vibrated from a text.
<Michael> Good morning
<Mag> Good morning. Did you get my mail?
<Michael> Yup. Can you come out later?
<Mag> I think so. It really has to be today, because Drew and I are traveling to Pittsburgh this Saturday. I forgot to mention to you
<Michael> No problem. Did you drive today?
<Mag> No. I took the shuttle. I’m in the cafe now, getting breakfast
<Michael> Okay. I’ll pick you up after work. Just tell me where
<Mag> Sure. Are you at work now?
<Michael> Yes, at my desk
<Mag> Do you have time to chat more?
<Mag> Good. I’m in line for food. I’m gonna put you in my pocket
<Michael> In your pocket? Uhh, I don’t know if I wanna go in there. It’s dark in there. What if I don’t like it?
<Mag> You won’t be in there too long. Just a few minutes
<Michael> Okay. I’m trusting you. Don’t forget about me in there 🙂
<Mag> I won’t
Loading her tray with food, she sat and another text arrived.
<Rebecca> Still on for breakfast?
Having forgotten about meeting her, Mag resolved… If I eat with you, I can’t chat with Michael. I wanna chat with Michael.
<Mag> I’m eating breakfast super quick right now. I have to finish something for Susan this morning
<Rebecca> No problem. Lunch later?
Hunched over the table and swiping back to Michael’s chat, she cradled the phone in her palms.
Toes pitter-pattering the floor.
Their tapping rate… matched the pace of her texting thumbs.
<Mag> I took you out of my pocket. Now you’re on the table
<Michael> Thank goodness. It was dark in there. I couldn’t see anything
<Mag> Now you can see everything, it’s nice and bright
<Michael> Good. That makes me happy. What are you eating?
<Mag> Eggs, bacon, parfait, potatoes, bagel, coffee
<Mag> It’s meh. Not the best, but it’ll do
<Mag> Yeah, it means, so so
<Michael> I never heard that before. Meh… I like it. Mind if I steal it from you?
<Mag> Let me think about it
<Michael> While you’re thinking… I’ll start using it 🙂
<Mag> I totally forgot I was supposed to eat breakfast with Rebecca this morning
<Michael> Uh oh
<Mag> But I’d rather chat with you. I think I’m turning into a text addict. One of those people who constantly looks down at their phone while typing away, and doesn’t notice anyone or anything around
<Michael> We’ll be text addicts together, because I’d rather chat with you too
They exchanged more messages throughout the morning. During meetings, then at Mag’s desk and between task assignments.
Postponing lunch with Rebecca, she invited Michael to eat off campus instead.
Arriving in his car.
He identified her from behind and steered to the side of the road, approaching her from behind.
Leaning over the center console, he spoke towards the open passenger window,
“Excuse me. I just noticed you walking and… Well, this is gonna sound extremely forward of me. But you are stunning. I’d love to know who you are and how you stop traffic. Would you care to join me for lunch? What kind of food do you like?”
“Hmm… I don’t know.”
Remaining on the sidewalk, she faked disinterest,
“I’m actually waiting for someone.”
“Whoever this gentleman is. He shouldn’t leave you stranded on walkways, waiting for him. Is he good to you?”
“You’re right!” Smiling… she approached the car and leaned against the passenger door,
“You wouldn’t leave me waiting on the roadside, would you?”
“Not in a million years.”
Opening the door, she hopped in,
“How are you?”
Driving to a fast food chain. They ordered burgers and found seats outside under a red-canopied table.
Unwrapping her burger… Mag looked up, “Rebecca’s gonna start hating me.”
“Because I flaked on her twice today. First for breakfast and again for lunch.”
“You’re the worst friend ever.”
She rolled her eyes, “I know.”
“And I’m the new Rebecca.” Michael’s face beamed smugly,
“Because I’m spending time with you that she used to have.”
Chuckling and chewing. Mag’s fingers corralled lettuce leaves into the corner of her mouth,
“You’re probably right.”
“Tell Rebecca I’m sorry. But she had her chance with you. She blew it.”
“Oh! That’s funny. I have to tell you a story about something similar to that.”
“Do tell!” Leaning forward. Michael’s eyes shined, “Did Rebecca hit on you?”
“No. She wouldn’t do that; she’s as straight as I am. But a few months ago I went on a business trip with someone else… a lesbian co-worker. She’s super cool and really nice. But I had a feeling she was hitting on me.”
“Hmmm,” Michael’s lips pursed…
“What did she do?”
“It was weird. Before we went on the trip, she used to invite me to lunch once in awhile. We were never best friends. But we worked in the same group. Then we went on a Philippine trip for a week. Training their finance team and she complained about the food nonstop. She hated Filipino food. I didn’t understand it. There were lots of non-Filipino restaurants over there, like TGI-Fridays and Kentucky Fried Chicken. All that stuff. But she’s vegan or vegetarian or something. I forgot which one.”
“I could never be vegan,” Positioning his half-eaten burger in front of his eyes, Michael’s head tilted, “I like meat way too much.”
“Me too. Anyway, she refused to eat at those places and complained about Philippine food so much that I got tired of hearing it. Then one night we’re having drinks at the hotel bar. Oh! You should’ve seen this hotel by the way, it was gorgeous. Way better than most places ADKAR lets me stay. So, we’re drinking at the bar and after a while we got buzzed. We were talking about work and relationship stuff. She did most of the talking. Anyway, at the end of the night, she’s telling me some story and she put her hand on my thigh for a long time. Then she started rubbing it. I don’t remember what she was talking about. But I got a weird feeling, she was hitting on me.”
Michael smirked, “I bet you did.”
“Then she said…”
“Oh. I can’t remember exactly what it was… but she mentioned something like I was a momma bear? Or I reminded her of a momma bear? I don’t remember exactly.”
“Sounds like she wanted to taste your honey.”
Michael shrugged his shoulders, “Sorry. I don’t know how else to interpret ‘momma bear.’ Does she have a girlfriend?”
“Yeah. She talked about her girlfriend that night.”
“Sounds like your co-worker is the guy-ish girl in the relationship,”
He spoke assuredly,
“She’s the lady who acts more like a dude.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because she’s behaving like a guy! Trying to taste her co-workers honey! In the Philippines! On a work trip! It doesn’t get more dude-ish than that! She’s probably thinking… ‘What happens in Manila, stays in Manila.’”
“We were actually in Manilla! That’s where we stayed.”
“Yup,” He nodded, “I’m guessing this girl has short cropped hair. Barely wears makeup and sports button down, long sleeve shirts, and loose fitting Dad jeans most of the time? Am I right?”
“Pretty much.” Picturing the co-worker in question… she was surprised by his near spot on visualization.
“What did you do after that?”
“I just ignored it. Then I told her I was tired and had to go to sleep.”
“Did she walk you to your room?”
“No. She stayed at the bar.”
“That’s good. It would’ve been weird if she left the same time as you.”
“Yeah, it would.”
He leaned back,
“Sounds like she was testing the waters to see if you were into a little Sex-On-The-Side action. Some good ‘ol SOTS, you know? She’s a total predator.”
“Maybe… Either way; the whole situation made me really uncomfortable.”
“Of course it did.”
“But there’s more… The next day, we were supposed to meet for breakfast because we ate together every day on the trip. But she didn’t show up. And when I asked her about it later, she said she forgot.”
“How did she forget if you guys ate together every day?”
“I have no idea. By then I was tired of spending time with her. So I didn’t mind. Anyway, for the rest of the trip, she basically ignored me.”
“That’s because you turned her down.”
He grunted, like a Caveman,
“She woman no like be turn down.”
“Do you still see her in the office?”
“No. She quit ADKAR a few weeks later. Now she works somewhere in Boston.”
“Wow…” He chuckled, “You’re telling me; because you turned this lady down, she quit the friggin company and moved to the other side of the country?!”
“I never thought of it that way.”
She nearly spit cola from her mouth, “It seems like it. Yeah.”
FOR THE REMAINING WORKDAY, they exchanged more texts and finalized arrangements to meet-up after work.
Picking Mag up in his car…
Michael navigated to Shadrack’s.
The pub sat in the corner of a run-down strip plaza. Seemingly unchanged since the sixties.
Faded green shamrocks plastered its exterior.
Inside… smog from cigarettes and cigars co-mingled in the air.
Sparse decorations and classic neon beer signs, adorning the walls.
A full-length bar stretched along the far side of the establishment. Roughly one-quarter filled with customers.
All appeared to be regulars.
Donning tattered San Francisco Giants baseball caps.
Well-worn flannel shirts.
Approaching the bar. Michael and Mag were greeted by an older woman working behind it. Low rise skin-tight jeans muffin-topped her waist and a half-length v-neck shirt exposed her belly button.
Her complexion was makeup free and waves of auburn hair flowed forever down her back.
Smiling… She approached their position at the bar,
“How ya doin?
“Pretty good,” said Michael.
“My name’s Carla.”
“No! It isn’t!” A slurring male voice yelled from the corner of the bar.
“It’s heathen! Your name’s heathen!”
Carla raised her brow,
“S’cuse me fer a minute.”
Turning towards the accuser, she snarled, “Will you shut the hell up! You don’t even know what a heathen is do ya? I believe in God, so I can’t be no heathen, ya idjit!”
The commanding authority of her voice surprised Michael.
Spoken from a throat lined with shrapnel and broken glass.
Turning. She faced him and waved her backhand at the interrupter, “Sorry bout that. He’s harmless. What’ll I get ya?”
“Do you have Guinness?”
“I should hope so. Can’t be an Irish Pub with no Guinness, can we?”
Murmurs of agreement emanated from regulars around the bar.
“No, you can’t,” said Michael agreeably.
He turned to Mag, “You want Guinness?”
“We’ll take two.”
“Comin right up.”
Receiving their drinks. They landed in a corner booth and Mag inspected their pints.
Each glass… half-full of beer, half-full of foam.
“I don’t think Carla knows how to pour a proper Guinness.”
Michael inspected his pint, “Yeah, this is pretty bad. I’d go up and complain. But Carla would kick my ass.”
Glancing at all customers in the pub, Mag smirked,
“Carla could kick everyone’s ass in this bar.”
“That’s because she’s Grim Reapers grandmother.”
“I guess we’re keeping these drinks then?”
“Bet your booty, we are.”
He raised his glass, “Cheers,” and their glasses clinked.
Stretching lips beyond froth, they sipped beer and Mag’s expression puzzled as Michael frowned, “I think it’s been awhile since they cleaned the keg lines in this place.”
“Is that why this Guinness tastes like gym socks? Who’s idea was it to come here?”
“Oh man.” He grimaced, “I take full responsibility. Let’s go someplace else if you want. We don’t have to stay here.”
“No, it’s okay.” Mag smiled, “I’m just happy to relax out of the office, and not at home.”
“It is nice,” Michael looked into her eyes,
“So what was the argument you had with Drew?”
“It was nothing really. Drew’s upset because his brother and sister aren’t helping enough with his mom, who’s caring for their sick father. She’s totally stressed. His brother and sister live close to her house, but they’re too busy to help.”
Wrapping her hands around her pint, she gazed up, “Anyway, Drew got angry because they’re not helping, and I mentioned they’re probably super depressed. That they’re feeling overwhelmed about the whole situation. Then he yelled at me and said… ‘That’s no excuse because everyone’s overwhelmed.’ After that, I didn’t wanna say anything. I have no idea what they’re going through. So I just apologized.”
Fearing further explanation might portray her as a sympathy seeker, she looked into Michael’s eyes,
“It wasn’t really an argument, but I hate when he yells.”
“I understand. It’s an unfortunate, bad situation. Both my parents are healthy, so I can’t relate directly to Drew’s situation. But it’s only a matter of time before one of them passes away. It happens to everyone, there aren’t many exceptions to that. I can absolutely relate to the yelling though, because Nancy does that too. I learned, if I yell back, then she yells louder and that makes me yell louder. Then the whole situation escalates, turning a small disagreement until a full-blown argument where nothing gets resolved. Honestly…”
His eyes shifted down, to the left.
“I think it’s a trick people use to gain the upper hand. I hate it too.”
“Yeah,” Mag’s expression softened, “That’s interesting because the same thing happens with me and Drew. If I yell louder, then he yells louder than me, and his voice is way deeper than mine. And sometimes he…”
She sighed. Looking at the floor,
“I shouldn’t tell you this, I’m sorry.”
“Tell me what?” Michael tilted forward… positioning his head to the side, he intercepted her gaze, “Now you have to tell me. Besides, who am I gonna tell? This is our thing, right? Whatever you tell me goes in one ear, and stays there. I never repeat it to anyone. That’s a promise.”
Half smiling. Mag peered into his eyes, “I like that.”
“I like the way you said… That’s a promise. I don’t know why. But I liked it.”
“It’s the truth. I do promise.” Reaching across the table. He touched her wrist briefly before grabbing his pint,
“What were you gonna say?”
Her eyes shifted to the floor, “It’s dumb really.”
She spoke softly,
“Sometimes when Drew and I get into an argument, he pushes me.”
“You mean physically? He hits you?”
“No.” Leaning back, she rested her palms on her knees, “He doesn’t hit me. But he…” She exhaled, “It’s hard to describe.”
During seconds of silence, they sipped beer.
“We argued a few weeks ago. I forgot what it was about. But towards the end, Drew walked past me and bumped into me with his shoulder. It wasn’t by accident. He intentionally nudged me with his shoulder like this…”
Reaching across the table, she pushed Michael’s shoulder and the force jolted him back.
“That’s how hard he bumped you?”
“Yeah. But he did it with his shoulder. That’s not the only time he did it. He does it once in a while, but not all the time.”
“That’s weird.” Michael perplexed, “What did you do after that?”
“I pushed him back.”
“What?” His eyes widened, “Is that the right thing to do?”
“I don’t know. He pissed me off!”
She spoke quickly, “I’m not gonna let him get away with pushing me! That’s passive-aggressive bullshit! I can’t let him get away with that!”
“No, no, you’re right.” Leaning back. Michael pressed his shoulders against the rear of the bench, “He shouldn’t get away with it.”
Another moment of silence.
“What happened next?”
“He yelled at me for hitting him. But I didn’t even hit him. I just pushed him the same way he pushed me. Maybe I did it a little bit harder. Anyway, he asked me why I did it. And I told him, ‘Because you pushed me first,’ then he said… ‘No, I didn’t.’ and I’m like, ‘Yes. You did! You hit me with your shoulder when you walked past me!’”
“Geez. He lied about it?” Michael’s jaw dropped and his eyes rolled.
“It was complete bullshit. Then he wouldn’t let it go. He said I was violent and needed to control my anger, because he didn’t know how to be in a relationship with someone who’s aggressively unstable.”
“Wow! He turned the whole thing around on you!? He’s like some kind of a manipulative assho…” He paused.
“Sorry. I don’t mean to say anything bad about him. It’s just, I agree with you. It is bullshit. He shouldn’t get away with that passive-aggressive garbage. It’s complete crap.”
“Thanks. But it’s okay. You can say whatever you were gonna say. I don’t mind.”
“I was just gonna say he shouldn’t do that stuff.”
Michael contemplated, “It’s almost like…” His speech slowed and his mind sought kindler, gentle words.
“This is gonna sound really bad. I shouldn’t say it.”
“Go ahead. You can say whatever you want.”
“Okay.” He sighed, “It’s almost like he’s the woman in the relationship and you’re the man. Because I think in most relationships it’s the woman who’s passive aggressive. Like in my relationship, Nancy’s passive aggressive towards me. I don’t know any relationship where the guy is the only passive-aggressive one. I’m sure those types of relationships exist. But I’ve never experienced it.”
Shrugging his shoulders, he turned his palms up and his elbows lay flat on the table, “I don’t know enough about your relationship with Drew to make certainties. I don’t wanna be like…”
Imitating a high pitch, sarcastic voice, he waved his hands… “‘Oh! I know what the solution is. It’s this! There you go; I figured it out. You’re welcome.’ I don’t wanna be like that. I’m no relationship expert.”
“It’s okay. I like the way you explained it. Makes sense.”
Sipping beer. She gazed into her pint,
“I’ve been thinking the same thing lately. But I don’t wanna seem selfish. And it’s not like I’m perfect; I’m totally not. But… sometimes I feel like I’m more of a man than he is. Like I’m Drew’s husband. And he’s my wife.”
“That’s because you’re working full-time, earning most of the money. I don’t know what kind of work he does. But you mentioned Drew only works part-time from home, right? He doesn’t have to commute five days a week. Doesn’t have to deal with corporate stress and isn’t forced to hang out with people he wouldn’t normally socialize with. But you and I do… because we have too. Especially living in the Bay Area. Someone better earn as much money as possible by whatever means necessary, or you’re screwed. There’s no way around it.”
An eruption of laughter came from the bar and Carla whipped a rag through the air… smacking one of the regulars in the face. She scolded him,
“Say that again and I’ll rip your head off!”
Michael turned towards the action,
“I think we’re about to witness a murder.”
Somberly, Mag gazed into his eyes,
“Did I tell you Drew tried to work full-time, but gave it up?”
“I don’t think so.”
“When I met him, he already had his MBA. Drew’s smart. That’s one of the reasons why I married him. We both talked about getting full-time jobs in the Bay Area, and figured after a few years we’d have enough money to buy a home.”
“Then he got a job and he made good money. But a year or so later he said he couldn’t do it anymore. It was a hard time for us both because I could tell he was stressed from work. He couldn’t sleep. He was irritable all the time. And we weren’t getting along because the job made him unbearable. It got so bad we went to see a doctor.”
“Because Drew had insomnia. He couldn’t concentrate on anything. He started forgetting stuff. Then his blood pressure skyrocketed. He never had high blood pressure before, so the doctor recommended medication to help, but none of it worked. Anyway, after awhile Drew and I agreed he should stop working. Eventually, he found part-time work, but it doesn’t pay much. It’s better than nothing though.”
Michael stared at the floor.
“I just thought of something else I shouldn’t say.”
“Go for it.”
“It’s like he’s Stockholming you. It’s not fair. You go to work five days a week and sometimes work is stressful, right? Sometimes it sucks and you do everything imaginable to manage that stress so it doesn’t affect your life. I think that’s what everyone does. Everyone who works a full-time job. It’s a pain in the ass. But it’s part of life. We do it because we have to. There isn’t much choice.”
Quickening his speech, his hands waved in the air as if conducting a symphony, “But for someone like him. There is a choice. He can say… ‘I don’t wanna do it anymore. It’s too hard. It’s making me physically ill.’ The reason he can say that is because he’s not man enough to handle it. Instead, he falls back on you, and makes you support him while he lives the easy life. Only working part-time. Relaxing at home while you’re busting your butt at work.”
Fearing an overstep of boundaries, he slowed his speech,
“A real man works to support a relationship. He doesn’t stand-by and watch the woman he loves do everything for him. It’s not like you guys have kids and he’s busy taking care of them at home. That would be a different story. Instead, he’s living the good life at your expense. He’s like a big kid and what does he think you are?… his mom or something? It’s not right. He’s taking advantage of the situation.”
Mag spoke assuredly, in defensive tone,
“Drew does work hard.” Her eyes gazed down,
“When he has a project… he’s researching acquisitions. He works hard. He’s not lazy. He’s a hard worker.”
“I’m sorry,” Gazing into her eyes, Michael lamented,
“I don’t know enough about your relationship, or enough about Drew to say all that stuff. I’m making assumptions based on the information I have and that’s not fair of me. I might be completely wrong. I don’t really know.”
Mag sighed, “That’s okay. I appreciate your honesty about it.”
Sharing solitude. They stared into each other’s eyes.
“That’s the most serious conversation we’ve had,” said Michael,
“Maybe too serious?”
“No. It was good; I’m glad we talked about it.”
“Check this out,” Leaning forward, he shared view of his phone, “This is the app I told you about. It’s from my company, Methodis. Pubs and lounges use it to manage their jukeboxes. It’s pretty cool. You select any song you want and the app manages the requests. Let’s play something. What do you wanna hear?”
Glancing around the pub, Mag raised her brow,
“I don’t think anyone in this place likes R&B.”
“How about you play some of that Indie stuff you raved about? I wanna see if it’s any good. Because I have doubts.”
“Whoa!” Michael chuckled, “You’re talking crap about the music I like? I don’t know who told you that’s a cool thing to do. But they lied to you. It’s not cool! You’ve never heard any Indie music.”
Mag smiled, “Well, now’s your chance. Don’t blow it.”
“That’s where you’re wrong Mrs. Williams, because I will blow it. I’ll blow your mind with the song I’m gonna play.”
His eyes beamed and he grinned boastfully, “See what I did there? That play on words? Am I not amazing? Are you not entertained!?”
Mag fake yawned.
“Oh!” Michael scoffed, “I see how you are. Hold on, let me find something…”
Laughing. He scrolled through Indie songs in the app.
“What should I play?”