“Did you hear? We just hired a new guy and I guess he’s like twenty.”
I shrugged. “Why should I care? I have a boyfriend.”
“A boyfriend you’re breaking up with.” Rhonda smiled. She knew me well.
The last thing I needed was a new boyfriend. Life was fine the way it was. I went to college during the day, worked in a call center at night, and spent my free time hanging out with friends.
As I walked back to my cubicle, a shiny, new nameplate caught my eye. Oh goody. The new guy. I read his last name. “Zeck.” What a weird last name.
The next day, young Mr. Zeck joined our department, wearing faded Levi’s and a gray T-shirt. As usual, the day-shift people left and our work environment relaxed. We cranked up the radio. Eric Clapton belted out a catchy tune.
On the other side of my cubicle, the new guy tapped his pen to the beat of the music. I sighed, hoping he’d realize how irritating he was. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Instead, he tapped louder. Then he kicked into double-time, beating his desk with a pen in each hand. Seriously? Was he trying to annoy me? I pushed back my chair and stuck my head around the corner.
“Do you mind?”
He froze mid-tap and looked puzzled, as if wondering why on earth I interrupted his brilliant drum solo. He leaned back in his chair and raked a hand through his thick mop of hair.
“Nope. I don’t mind.” Then he smiled, revealing the most perfect teeth I’d ever seen.
I knew one thing. This guy was going to drive me nuts.
Thankfully as the weeks passed, my annoyance diminished. A little. He still drove me nuts, but he also had a knack for making me laugh. Maybe he hadn’t made a great first impression, but once I got to know him, we became friends.
“You going to that?” He motioned toward a flyer for the company Christmas party.
“Thinking about it. You?”
“Maybe.” He popped open his Pepsi. “You bringing your boyfriend?”
My senses heightened, but I kept my tone cool. “Nah, I don’t think so. Mostly because we broke up.” The spark in his eyes made me wonder. Was he just curious, or was there more to his question?
On the night of the Christmas party, I spotted Curt, wearing a purple dress shirt and black pants. Dang, I thought, he cleaned up well. We spent the evening talking, laughing and singing along with our favorite songs.
When the music slowed down, I wondered if he might ask me to dance. The thought didn’t seem to occur to him. Time and again, slow songs came and went. Finally, by the end of the night, I’d had enough. I leaned in and shouted over the music.
“So, here’s a question. Are you ever going to ask me to dance?”
Next thing I knew, I was on the dance floor. My arms rested on his shoulders as we swayed to the music. Maybe it was the overwhelming scent of his Old Spice, but I felt lightheaded.
What was going on? Did I actually like him? Did he like me? And when did he become so stinkin’ good looking?
At the end of the night, he offered to walk me to my car. We stepped outside into the crisp night air. The parking lot lights shined down on the glistening snow. It was beautiful – the perfect backdrop for a guy to tell a girl how he really felt about her.
Then without warning, Curt belted out a long, evil laugh. He scooped me up and carried me straight toward a pile of snow. I kicked my legs and pretended to hate it. “Stop it. Put me down.”
“You know,” he said, swinging me around, “if I wanted to, I could toss you into that snowdrift.”
“You are so annoying. We’re both going to fall.” I tightened my grip around his neck. And that’s when I realized, it didn’t matter. Because I was already falling.
On Monday, Rhonda was full of questions. I assured her we were just friends. We had a lot of fun, but he’d had plenty of chances to speak up if he “liked” me. So, our relationship continued as usual. Curt took pleasure in provoking me. I tormented him back.
“Must be nice,” I said, clutching my Big Mac. “I wish my mom would make me supper every night.”
“It is.” He grinned.
A few nights later, Curt passed by my desk while I was on the phone with a crabby customer. I finished the call, tossed my headset on the keyboard and exhaled. That’s when I noticed the dinner plate on the side of my desk.
I pulled back the foil. Holy moly. Homemade beef and noodles. Buttered mashed potatoes. Sweet corn. A fresh-baked dinner roll.
Rhonda ran over to my desk. “Are you kidding me? Why doesn’t he bring all of us food like that?”
From the other side of my cubicle I heard his response. “I’m not trying to impress all of you.”
My heart leaped a little. Was he joking, as usual? After all, he’d never given me any tangible reason to believe he wanted more than friendship. And then came New Year’s Eve.
Not-so-coincidentally, we both planned to be at the same party – and I knew the perfect way to finally figure him out. If he kissed me at midnight, he obviously liked me. If he didn’t, he just wanted to be friends. Unfortunately, around 11:30, he ruined my plan.
“I need to go somewhere,” he said, “but I’ll be back.”
What? I looked down, trying to hide my disappointment. Now I’d never know how he felt. I was tired of this. Tired of wondering. Tired of--
Interrupting my thoughts, he leaned in and kissed me. I stared back, stunned.
“Just In case I’m not back by midnight.” He had the cutest smile. And I had my tangible sign.
Maybe Zeck is a weird last name, but it’s been mine for the past 24 years. Curt still makes me laugh. Over time he has also perfected his air drumming skills by tapping on steering wheels, kitchen tables, and sometimes even my leg during long car rides.
It doesn’t bother me anymore, but I don’t tell him that.