The Almost-on-Purpose Accidental Date that Started It All
by James Austin
Our cubicles were right across the hall from each other, and I could hear every conversation Libby had. She wasn’t soft spoken, like me. She was loud and funny and when she laughed it made you glad to be at work. Office romance does have its advantages that way. You can basically spy on someone without any effort at all, for in cubicle land there are no secrets.
I had planned to make it really casual and just ask her out in a careless sort of I’m-bored-on-a-Wednesday-afternoon sort of way. I purposely picked a day that wasn’t Friday, so she wouldn’t have to make the commitment of spending a precious Friday night with me. Maybe that would be asking too much, I didn’t know. Basically, I was just scared out of my mind and couldn’t imagine what I’d do if she said yes. I’m no Casanova. I’ll admit that right now. Also, I don’t generally go in for dating someone I work with. Also, I am not a risk taker, nor a flirt, nor a spontaneous individual. I am a nerd of the old school. I have been to Star Trek conventions. No ladies’ man am I. But this girl made me want to break all my rules, then invent some new ones and break them too.
Sometimes I would pull into the parking lot and drive around as if looking for a space, but really I’d be looking for her beat-up Honda with all the bumper stickers. If I didn’t see it, I’d park and wait for her to pull in, then get out and “accidentally” bump into her on the walk to the building. We would chat, make small talk. She was always friendly and talkative with me, but she was like that to everyone.
So Wednesday came. I was going to do my “bumping into her” thing in the parking lot, but at the last minute, I realized I had done that on Monday and Tuesday. I thought she might think I was a stalker if I did it three days in a row, so, despite the fact that we actually did arrive at the parking lot at the same time, I remained in my car and arranged my CD collection until she left. As I made my way down the sidewalk, I saw her ahead of me, walking with Jeff, who had stepped out of his shiny, obnoxious red Camaro just in time to meet up with her.
Jeff wasn’t exactly competition, since he was married, but he was kind of smarmy and hit on all the women in the office. In the past couple weeks he had formed a special attachment to Libby, and they actually seemed to have some sort of friendship. She was the kind of person who would just laugh if Jeff hit on her, thinking it was a joke. She wouldn’t get offended, like the other women, because she really had never considered that someone might actually be that smarmy for real. I could tell this about her. Nevertheless, I didn’t like seeing them together.
All day I was aware of every coffee break she took, every telephone conversation she had. I got nothing done, just stared at my computer, tried to determine the perfect moment to ask her out, and wondered how I’d do it out of earshot of the twenty other people in our cubicle maze. I hoped to catch her at lunch, but just as I was walking past her space for the umpteenth time, intending to furtively peek through the cracks in the pre-fab walls and see if she was there, my boss, George, came dashing past me in a streak of lighting. He was saying, “Shit! Shit! Shit!” then he grabbed my arm and asked me where he could get a Valentine’s day card. I suggested a card shop across the street. He thanked me profusely and dashed off, yelling behind him, “Oh my God! I almost forgot! My wife would kill me!” And I realized, horror of horrors, that it was Valentine’s Day.
I couldn’t ask a girl for a first date on Valentine’s day! It’s too loaded. It’s too heavy. Expectations are way too high. I had planned on burgers and beers at a nearby tavern, and that isn’t very Valentine’s Dayish at all. I slunk back into my cubicle, into my desk chair, head in hands, and decided that despite all this anticipation I’d have to wait until tomorrow afterall. It screwed up my whole carefully planned scenario, but I figured I’d just have to do the thing I’m worst at, and wing it.
Well, round about lunchtime I sensed commotion. I heard Jeff pleading with Libby in her cubicle and strained my ears to catch what was going on. I heard her sigh and say, “Okay, get your coat.” The two left the building together while I sat there, heart in hand, wondering what was going on. They returned a couple hours later.
Jeff was saying, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry! Really, I’m sorry. You have to forgive me. Let me make it up to you. Let me buy you a beer.”
Libby answered that she didn’t want a beer and that she didn’t forgive him, but Jeff pleaded and begged and apologized until finally she gave in. He convinced her that if she didn’t accept his offer of a beer he would never believe that she forgave him and it would mar their relationship forever. Being a guy, I immediately understood this as a come-on, but being a woman, Libby did not. Her response was something like, “Fine. Whatever.”
I tried to put it out of my head, unsuccessfully, and by the time 5:30 rolled around I was such a living example of inner torment that all I wanted to do was get far away from that building. Of course, that would be the day that I’d get some last minute work and have to stay a half an hour late. So you can imagine my surprise when, finally finished at 6:00, I got my stuff together, walked out into the hall, and there was Libby, with her coat on, just standing there. She saw me and said “Jim! You’re here! Oh my God! Thank God. Do me a favor. Go out for a beer with me and Jeff. I have somehow got roped into this and now on top of it he made me wait while he finished some work, now he’s making me wait while he goes to the bathroom or something. I told him we could just do it another day but he begged and pleaded with me not to leave. I don’t know what his deal is but seriously . . .” and here she whispered, “I don’t want to be alone with the guy. Save me!”
What could I do? I’m a gentleman. I saved the lady. Sharing a pizza and drinks, I learned that the source of the day’s drama was the fact that Jeff had asked Libby to follow him in her car to his car’s dealership, where he had to drop off his car for repairs, then bring him back to the office. It sounded like a simple favor. Well, it turned out that the dealership was across town, and not only that, he was inside for an hour, waiting in line to talk to the mechanic, while she waited for him in the car. It used up her entire lunch break plus more time that she’d have to make up after-hours the next day. Boy had Jeff blown it, and his timing couldn’t have been better.
He spent the whole dinner alternating between apologizing for tricking her into it, which he had clearly done on purpose, and sulking about the fact that she was paying all her attention to me. Libby and I talked and talked while Jeff pouted, fully aware of the fact he had inadvertently sparked our romance.
That accidental date led to many more, and we’re still together, thanks to smarmy Jeff and his stupid red Corvette.