In his office, it was dark from within and from without. Rain fell angrily from an iron-grey sky and pelted the windows in staccato bursts. He was complaining of a headache, and had turned off the harsh, overhead flourescent lights, leaving just the banker’s lamp on his desk lit. Not yet their turn on the call, the phone was muted, and they were working on separate things in the warm pool of light from beneath the green glass shade, leaning toward the center of his desk as if gathering by a small campfire. The conference call was filled with static noise and broken sentences; nobody had a good connection today.
A tremendous crack of thunder startled both of them. Their heads jerked up and over to the rattled windows, eyes wide. Violent spatterings of water lashed the building, and the wind came down the steel and concrete canyons, howling like a siren. The city seemed a precarious place to be during a thunderstorm. The skies flashed once, slowly, then two quicker flashes. The wind settled, the glass stopped trembling. They looked back and smiled weakly at each other, with wordless complicity at having survived, then returned to their separate business.
She couldn’t get her query to work. Error messages of invalid arguments and incompatible field types made no sense; her logic was perfect. Twisting her bottom lip in frustration she sat back from her screen, trying to think what she was doing wrong. She got a quick idea, leaned forward again, no…that wouldn’t work. She sat back again with an exasperated exhale. Dammit.
“What’s wrong?” he murmured. He was leaning on one elbow, head in hand, eyes closed and fingers slowly rubbing his brow. His other hand lay dropped on the open pages of his journal, holding a pen but not writing anything. His voice was kind but he looked pained, as if her fretful fidgeting was making his head hurt more and he needed her to be still.
“Nothing, just figuring something out,” she said softly. She leaned on her own elbow, closed her eyes, listened to the rain a moment. She was so tired. It wasn’ t long before she felt the edges of her mind pull apart and start to dissolve; she could too easily fall asleep. Quickly she opened her eyes. He hadn’ t moved. Only the pen rolling through his fingers gave indication that he was still awake.
She tried to return to numbers and data and logic, but was suddenly distracted by the composition of his fingers around the pen, the blue of his cuff against the white of the pages, the shadow he cast by the light of the banker’s lamp. Her eyes flicked to his face, then back to his hand. The storm raged outside and she toyed with the idea of laying her hand gently down on the desk, in the space between them, palm up. What would he do? This was not the first time she had mused over this scenario, and long ago she had narrowed it down to three possible outcomes:
He would not notice. Engrossed in work – and especially today, occupied with a headache – there was no room or regard for anything else. Her hand on his desk would just be another incidental object, taken for granted. It would be bittersweet.
He would notice. Be puzzled. Feel awkward. Why would she put her hand out to him? What was he supposed to do? He’d do nothing. She’d feel him being puzzled and awkward and doing nothing and they’d both be embarrassed. Or even worse, he’d crack a joke to cover and she’d be mortified. It would suck.
He would notice. Beneath the visor of his hand on his brow, he’d look at her, intrigued, look at her hand again. Wonder. Think about it. Understand. Be moved. His fingers would slowly let go of the pen, which would drop with a quiet thud on the pages of his notebook and roll into the margins. There would be the sound of fabric against paper as he inched his arm forward a little, and then his hand would touch down on hers, slide toward her wrist, palm to palm. They’d wrap and squeeze fingers, his skin would be warm and dry, maybe his thumb would run back and forth on her wrist. They wouldn’t talk, they wouldn’t even look at each other. They’d just, for that one little moment of calm in the storm, hold hands. It would be wonderful.
Incompatible field types, she thought suddenly. Invalid argument. She smiled suddenly into her palm, chuckled very softly. She was so stupid sometimes.
“What?” he drawled. Her gaze flicked over to him with a mild mix of panic and guilt. His eyes were open and his own chin was in the heel of his hand, and he was looking at her. Though his voice was etched with fatigue, his look was decidedly teasing. She felt utterly busted. She actually had to verify her hand was still in her possession and wasn’t, of its own accord, out on the desk.
“What?” she countered, willfully holding still and ignoring the pink heat sweeping up from her neck.
“What made you smile?”
You, she thought. And she could have said so: it was simple, the truth, and open to interpretation.
“…Nothing,” she finally managed, with a steady gaze into his eyes. “I was…Nothing, I’m just an idiot.”
He took his eyes from hers, tapped the end of his pen against the notebook pages. “If you’re an idiot then I’m too stupid to live,” he mumbled. He looked out the window, hand slowly rubbing his jaw. He still appeared clean-shaven at this five-o’clock hour but she could hear the faint rasp of creeping shadow. She had never seen him unshaven. Inwardly she lamented her helplessly curiosity about the bits and pieces that made up the arc of his daily life: shaving, picking out shirts and ties; how he held a pen and how he took his coffee; aware he got headaches and sometimes nosebleeds; knowing he always slept on the train on the way in but rarely on the way home. Did he wonder such things about her? Did the thought of her ever cross the transom of his mind? Did he ever, ever take her out of context?
A low rumble of thunder from outside then. On the phone they called his name. “Christ, this headache,” he muttered.
He cleared his throat, flicked off the mute button and moved into the fray.
In her mind, where her logic was perfect and her arguments valid and their field types completely compatible…there in her mind, she held his hand.