Thursday, January 29, 2009

Worlds Apart - Excerpt 6 - Alex Takes a Chance


In which we discover, if we didn't know it by now, that Alex could really use some Macho juice from Maverick.

Worlds Apart

by Kyle Crocco

6.

“… so, what are you going to do now …”

“So, what are you going to do now?” Bob demanded. Bob was Alex’s best friend at World Wide Homes, even though he was one of the sales guys and not in accounting. Actually, Bob was his only friend. Though friend might be have been too strong a word for their relationship. Friendly might have been a better word because they never met socially outside of work, and they barely did anything social inside of work, except for the odd talk when passing by each other’s office. Still, Bob was the only one who bothered to talk to him at all, not to mention about things non-work related, and that counted for something, even if the advice Bob doled out was usually bad.

Alex ignored Bob, overwhelmed by all the cardboard banker boxes that filled the broom closet from floor to ceiling. Someone had already duct taped a jagged piece of notebook paper to the outside of the door with his name spelled in hand-written black marker as Alax.

“Well,” Alex said after a moment. “First, I think I should sort through the boxes, seeing what’s inside each one because no one wrote down the contents. Then I was going to label them and attach a detailed list of contents. After that, I thought I could—”

Bob stepped closer. “No, I mean, what are you going to do about this situation?”

“It’s not that bad,” Alex explained. “Sure, it’s a broom closet, but it’s a relatively roomy broom closet if I don’t stretch my arms all the way out. And I’m sure that once I make some measurements, plot out dimensions of the space on some graph paper and calculate the holding capacity of the file cabinets, I can figure out what I should keep here and what I should—”

“No,” Bob insisted, “about the demotion, Alex. What are you going to do about the demotion?”

Alex looked away. “I wasn’t demoted.”

Bob made a face.

“I just wasn’t promoted,” Alex explained, turning back. “There’s a difference. A big one.”

“About as big as a small broom closet, I would say. Alax.” He ripped the paper off the door, revealing the nameplate underneath, which stated ‘janitorial supplies’.

“It’s not so bad,” Alex said, taking the paper back and placing it back over the ‘janitorial supplies’ nameplate. “In fact, my old office was too big anyway.”

“And had too great a view,” Bob said.

“Right,” Alex said, cheered that Bob was getting his point of view.

“And you would have made too much money as a partner.”

“Exactly,” Alex said. “Think of the taxes.”

“I was kidding,” Bob said.

“Oh,” Alex said. “I wasn’t.”

“I know.” Bob plucked a needlepoint pillow of a bridge from an open banker box. The words, ‘Look before you leap,’ were emblazoned across the front.

“Don’t touch that,” Alex said.

“Birthday gift,” Bob said, juggling the pillow.

Alex snatched the pillow away from Bob and set it back down in the cardboard box. “No I made it. That’s my coat-of-arms.”

“Seriously?” Bob asked.

“What?” Alex asked.

“Nothing,” Bob said.

“Needlepoint helps me think.”

“That’s your problem,” Bob said, picking up another needlepoint coat-of-arms design which stated, ‘A stitch in time saves nine.’ “You think too much, you study all the time, and you’re always making plans, but do you ever do anything?”

“Sure, yeah, I do plenty of things, Bob. I read books. And I do all the accounting and paperwork, which keeps this place—”

Bob picked through several hardback books stacked on top of one of the boxes. “The Old Patagonian Express by Paul Theroux? Around The World in 80 Days by Jules Verne? Following the Equator by Mark Twain?”

“What’s wrong with them? Those are classics of the travel genre.”

Bob waved a copy in front of Alex’s face. “Those are books written by people who went and did things for other people, like you, who don’t do things and stay at home. Have you ever traveled anywhere? Had to negotiate in an unknown currency without knowing the exchange rate? Ordered some strange food from a dirty looking street vendor?”

“Why would I order food from a strange vendor? Do you think I want a bad case of—”

Bob waved off the question. “Have you ever left the country?”

“I went up to—”

“Canada does not count!”

“Travel takes a lot of planning, Bob. There’s a lot to consider. And lots of unexpected things can happen.”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“You know, some people consider being careful as smart.”

Bob looked at the broom closet filled with cardboard banker boxes. “Yes, and we see where that’s got you in your life.”

“It’s just a temporary setback.”

“You need to be more aggressive, Alex.”

Alex carefully restacked the books on top of a box. “People can’t just suddenly change who they are, Bob. Life doesn’t start anew at thirty like people say.”

“No, apparently it ends at thirty for you,” Bob said, and then leaned forward. “So I guess that means that you’re not going to ask Carol out then like you said?”

Bob gestured down the long hallway to the front receptionist desk where Carol, as if realizing she was being talked about, brushed her long, brunette hair away from her wire-rim glasses and smiled in their direction.

Alex ducked back into the broom closet.

“What does asking Carol have to do with this?”

“Everything,” Bob said. “It’s symptomatic of your whole passive nature. You can’t ask out the girl. You can’t stand up to your father. You can’t challenge Clark.”

“You sound like my mother.”

“Who?”

“Nothing, no one,” Alex said hastily; then added, “I was going to ask her out when I became partner. I had a plan.”

“A plan, huh?” Bob asked. “Did it involve using the words ‘will you go out with me?’”

“Yes, one early draft certainly did,” Alex said, pulling some print outs from a cardboard box. “Ah, there they are.” He passed a draft to Bob, who gave it a cursory glance before crumpling it up into a ball and tossing it over his shoulder.

“Hey,” Alex cried, lunging after the paper.

Bob yanked Alex away from the paper and into the nearest, empty office.

“Bob, what are you doing? That hurts.”

“I’m taking action.” Bob pressed the intercom button on the desk phone. “Carol?

“Yes. What can I do for you Bob?” Carol answered.

Bob waved to Carol through the glass wall partition, and then grabbed Alex by his vest as he tried to make a hasty exit.

“I’m not doing this,” Alex said. “I’m not prepared. I don’t have my drafts.”

“What’s going on there, Bob?” Carol asked. “Is Alex still upset?”

Bob smiled and spoke into the intercom. “He’s not upset. It’s his thirtieth birthday.”

“Oh, happy birthday,” Carol said. “Oh, I’m sorry. For this to happen on your birthday.”

“It’s okay,” Alex said.

“And he has something he would like to ask you,” Bob said, pushing Alex back to the phone.

Alex stared at the Bob and then at the phone, stuttering “I … I …”

Bob said, “Wave to Carol, Alex.”

Alex turned to the glass partition and waved slowly at Carol. His Carol. The woman he had admired from afar for so long. She had wonderful, wavy brown, short hair that framed her oval face and those dark rimmed glasses that gave her that smart look he liked so much. And, best of all, she was nice to him. Sure, she had to be nice to everyone because she was the receptionist. But she hardly ever was nice to Clark. And that’s when he knew. That’s when he knew she was the one for him.

Carol adjusted her glasses and waved back. “I’m so sorry about you being demoted.”

“Technically, I wasn’t demoted,” Alex said. “I just wasn’t promoted. There’s a—

Bob covered the speaker with his hand. “Don’t be technical. This is your chance. She feels sorry for you. Now take advantage of that woman.”

“I can’t take advantage of her.”

“You’re devastated. She feels sorry for you. This is the best chance you’ll ever have. You’ll never be as pitiful as this. Wait!” Bob stopped and thought for a second. “It’s unlikely you’ll be as pitiful as this anytime soon. So go for it. Ask her.”

“But I’m not ready,” Alex protested. “I didn’t plan for this scenario.”

“Ask her now, or I’ll ask her for you.” Bob stared at Alex. They locked stares.

Carol’s voice came out through the speaker, “Alex? Is everything all right?”

Bob asked Alex, “Well?”

“Well?” Carol’s asked Alex, her voice muffled by Bob’s hand.

“Stop it,” Alex said, grabbing his head. “Stop it.”

“Stop what, Alex?” Carol’s muted voice demanded.

“Don’t Bob,” Alex said.

Bob uncovered the speaker and motioned Alex to say something. Down the hall, Carol adjusted her glasses again and waited.

“Do it,” Bob hissed.

There was a long, long moment in which Alex felt his face go from pale white to red-hot. “Carol, would you like, uh, to go out for lunch, I mean, if you’re not doing anything today already, or whatever?”

“Smooth,” Bob commented. “Real smooth.”

Alex covered the speaker. “Shut up! I didn’t have my notes.”

“Hold on a second,” Carol answered. Down the hall they could see her as she picked up the phone.

Alex paced back and forth, and waved an accusing finger at Bob. “I knew it, she doesn’t want to—”

“What was that?” Carol broke in after a moment. She was looking at them again.

“Noth—” Alex started to say.

“Lunch. Are you free?” Bob spoke into the speaker.

“With Alex?” Carol asked.

“Yeah,” Bob said. “Is that a problem? Do you find him repulsive? Repellent? A loser because he didn’t get the promotion?”

There was silence, while Carol adjusted her glasses again, and typed a quick note on the computer. Then she looked back at Alex. “Love to celebrate your birthday with you.”

Alex’s face lit up.

Bob clicked off the phone. “You see. Things can change if you take action. I bet this little lunch date might even change your life.”

“Really?” Alex asked.

“No,” Bob said. “It’s just a pity lunch date, Alex. Get a grip.”

But Alex wasn’t listening. He was looking down at the hall at the girl he thought about so many times but never had the courage to ask out. Maybe this thirtieth birthday wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

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