“The whisperings Molly heard just before she entered the break room stopped when her coworkers saw her.” Their faces melted like wax, reforming into nonchalance, a little laugh from the back of the room, a little red-faced gossip in another corner, half-formed sentences seemed to float out in the air like smoke: “all over the Spanish tile…”
She imagined herself floating at the top of the breakroom, hovering above them. She wanted to chew up the words that lingered as she walked in. She wanted to chew them up and spit them back at her co-workers, especially Danielle. Long-legged, clichéd, short-skirted, blond curly hair she wore in a loose clip Danielle. Danielle who was more Dustin’s type after all.
Molly waved “hello,” poured her coffee, stirred in her cream, and left. Molly was out of her depth. Not bad-looking, not good-looking, tortoise-shell glasses, wiry hair, could wear flannel in the fields on her dad’s farm and get away with it Molly. Dustin worked across from Molly for a year. They barely spoke.
Still, last night Molly had kissed Dustin at the holiday party as they stood in the three-season room at her boss’s house. They were the only two people in the cool, dark room with patio furniture. They were smoking cigarettes near the gas-flame space heater, talking about work, talking about the three-season room where all the smokers were sent by the boss’s wife, Magnolia. Even with the gas heater, it was cold in there.
“Wrong season for the three-season room,” Dustin said, shivering.
“Yeah,” Molly said and puffed her cigarette and drank her red wine. It was her third glass. She was light-headed from the wine or the cigarette or too many bacon-wrapped chestnuts. She was feeling bold and living a scene she’d invented in her head.
It was not the only scene she invented about Dustin. One scene involved being stuck in the stock room by accident. It ended in a kiss. Another scene involved Molly being attacked in the garage while walking her to car and Dustin came from nowhere to rescue her. It ended in a kiss.
This scene she invented in her head, standing together, in a secluded room and in a quiet moment, was happening. The office holiday party, the gas-flame space heater. The cigarette she bummed from him as an excuse to talk to him. She didn’t even smoke. She was faking it. She didn’t think he could tell. In the scene she invented in her head, he leaned close to her. Maybe he said, “I’ve been waiting for the chance to do this.” In the scene she invented in her head, he kissed her softly on the lips. She blushed and turned away.
Here, in the three-season room, Molly felt the wine go to her head. Dustin told her he had a confession. She smiled and leaned closer to him. “Tell me anything,” she said.
Dustin confessed that he was a closet UAV geek, and Molly had to ask what it was. He leaned in toward her, yes, but only to keep his voice down. His breath smelled of scotch. His breath was warm.
“Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. I fly drones,” he said.
“Like those old guys flying airplanes in the park?” she said, coughing on the last puff of the cigarette, her stomach turning from the wine or the smoke or the nearness of Dustin, his lips close to hers.
“Not quite,” he said, flashing gleaming white teeth, like a tiger—like a hungry tiger.
Molly leaned in closer. Average-looking, mousey Molly who sat across a desk from Dustin for one full year and never said much at all.
“I fly them at night,” he said. “I look in windows.” His teeth flashed again, a hungry tiger to a wine-drunk mouse.
“And what do you see?” Molly asked as she sipped the last of her wine, warming her hands by the gas-light space heater.
“Lots of things,” he said, looking past her to see if anyone was listening.
“You should come look in my apartment window,” she said because of the wine and the light-headedness and the closeness of his scotch-breath lips. And he started to pull back, still smiling, and she grabbed him by the tie like she’d seen in movies and put her lips on his a little too rough, but he didn’t respond, and her stomach dropped, so she let go of his tie and almost fell over into the gas-light space heater.
He caught her, the room spun then she vomited on the floor at his feet.
If this had been in the scene she invented in her head, Dustin would have been kind. He would have offered to take her home, to care for her, to tell her it was all right. They would laugh about it together. It would be a foundational piece of their “how we met” story.
But this was not the scene she invented in her head.
He helped her to the floor. He stepped over her vomit saying he had to get something, that he’d be back to check on her and she sat propped with her back against the patio furniture, her skirt hiked a bit, the cold tile floor of the three-season room penetrating her wool tights, the smell of her sick still in her nostrils, her head pounding from the wine and the smoke and the sheer humiliation of it all. She sat like that for five, six, seven minutes until the boss’s wife Magnolia found her, helped her up, called her a cab, and sent her home.
And now she is hovering once more, watching. Catching the gossip, laughing, and whispered words from co-workers on her tongue, chewing them, spitting them then saying nothing much at all as she sits across from Dustin and his expressionless eyes, his tight-closed mouth that hide those gleaming white tiger teeth.
Angela Doll Carlson is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has appeared in publications such as Thin Air Magazine, Eastern Iowa Review, Apeiron Review, Relief Journal Magazine, Rock & Sling and Ruminate Magazine, among others. She has published two books, Nearly Orthodox and Garden in the East.