Thursday, 16 March, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
Unlike in her previous job, Kate now has a real office. Well, it’s actually more of a room, big enough to have meetings in except that it has a nice desk facing out into the middle of the room, and a large conference table, pushed against the east windows, that is perpetually filled with stacked papers, snail mail, and reports.
The room is entirely floor-to-ceiling windows on the north and east walls, just the mirror image of the engineers’ bull pen which is all glass on the north and west, or would be if they didn’t have posters up all over the place. But where the guys have a view of just a little bit of woods to the north and then nothing but Tar Beach west of them, all of Kate’s windows look out onto the manicured grounds which give way, just ten yards or so away from the building, to lush forest. Surprisingly lush, considering that there are buildings and parking lots all around this area. Nevertheless, there is this nice little seam—Kate has no idea how thick it actually might be—of real wilderness that weaves between and behind the barriers of brick and tar all around this region.
Taking a mental break from sorting the snail mail, Kate stares out into the nearby woods, dark with the leafing-out trees and the gloomy sky, imagining what wild creatures might lurk there, passing like ghosts down these unexpected little wild pathways through civilization.
And then she hears “Hey, Katie! What’s happening?” and Jon saunters in—he practically swaggers, as he often does when he’s being silly—and, grinning, leans jauntily against her door frame.
Except that, when she turns and looks, there’s no one there at all. No Jon in his white shirt with the sleeves rolled up onto his strong forearms. The doorway is empty and silent. The difference between what she thought and what she is actually seeing is so profound that Kate starts hyperventilating instantly. There is no possible way that Jon could have dodged back out of sight: there’s six feet of wide open hall out there before you turn the corner and—
She distinctly remembers seeing little Jon coming in and leaning against the door jamb, but she also remembers turning her head to look that way and then not seeing him. But that means—that when she saw him, she was not looking in that direction?
“Oh my God,” she whispers, looking down at the desktop between her hands. She has made a solemn resolution never again to say What’s happening to me? Because, of course, she is pretty sure that she already knows.
“Hey, Katie!” she hears Jon’s voice. “What’s happening?”
Wide-eyed, Kate practically falls out of her chair turning to look again. She sees Jon exactly as she saw him before: grinning and leaning against the door jamb, his white shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal strong forearms. Except this time, seeing how she’s looking at him, Jon’s grin falters and he straightens up. “Hey, Katie, is everything OK?” He actually backs up slightly, holding his hands out in an I’m not threatening you gesture. The sudden movement speaks volumes about what his relations with women must be like. Well, not with women. With his wife. In her short time here Kate has already gathered that all is not well on that front for Jon. Kate feels terrible for making him think—she shakes her head to dispel the sudden impression she has of Jon’s difficult emotional state.
“Yes, I’m OK, sorry!” she says. “I was just—I was just thinking of something.” Oh my God. First he sees me practically faint, and now he must think I’m cracking up! Kate forces herself into Instant Calm-Down Mode and gives Jon her best imitation smile. “I’m fine, really. What’s going on with you, Jon?”
“Well—” Jon tries to relax. He forces a patented Jon Dunham Jaunty Grin onto his face and leans on the door frame again. “I’m not sure you noticed, but we in the engineering department have added a new guy lately!”
“Oh, I’ve noticed all right. I’ve got a stack of paper because of him about a foot high around here. Somewhere.” She glances around nervously as if the damned stack of forms might be lurking, preparing to pounce.
“Well, Miss Spence,” Jon declaims, “as is the ancient tradition of our kind, dating back even to the days of Tandy and Commodore, the Fraternal Brotherhood of Engineers of Triple AI will be pleased to throw a little shindig on Friday honoring the new guy, and, we, um—” Jon looks down at a spot on the floor immediately in front of him that has suddenly become very interesting, and Kate completely forgets about her own embarrassment. Oh my God! she thinks. He’s nervous about asking me to go out with them! It’s so cute that Kate can’t help grinning. Jon is always pretending to be the most confident guy in the known universe. He steals a glance, and seeing her cheered up helps him relax fully. “Well,” he says, “I guess we were just wondering if you’d like to honor us with your presence. You know, keep the boys from getting too rowdy?”
“Oh, is that my role?” Kate asks innocently. “What if I’m crazier than all you guys put together? What if I decide we should all go on a five-state crime spree?”
Jon finally actually smiles at this. Kate knows that she very much does not look like anybody’s idea of the leader of a five-state crime spree. “You know, Katie,” he says, “if that’s what you want to do—I think we’d probably go for it. You think we could get Alias Smith and Jones to bail us out?”
“They would just give me the paperwork to do,” Kate smiles. “So—tomorrow, after work? I’ll be there!”
“Yeah! OK, great!” Jon smiles back at here looking a little nervous again, and finally takes his leave with a motion that is more than half a bow.
Kate stares after him at the empty hallway, her assumed good mood draining from her rapidly. Did I really see him before he was there? She takes a slow breath and blows it out.
“What if I really am crazier than all you guys put together?” Kate whispers.