After three hours of entering serial numbers into the system, Ramona was ready to take the completed shipping orders to Filing. Filing consisted of two clerks caged in a large room completely filled with filing cabinets and completely lacking any natural light. The clerks took the thin papers and stuffed them in dusty file folders never to be seen again. The faces of the two clerks changed almost weekly as those unlucky enough to get such a duty never lasted long in the filing dungeon.
Filing’s surroundings were so much more dismal than her own were so Ramona made it a point to be cheerful and chatty with the clerks if she could be. She rang the bell and leaned over the counter. “Hello?”
A pale-faced girl, someone hardly out of her teens, dragged out of a row of sliding cabinets and up to the counter. “Yeah?”
The girl was someone Ramona had seen more than once, but the name escaped her. “Good morning. I have the Bio-West shippers here.”
“Whoop-de-do.” The girl brushed a strand of lifeless hair out of her eyes. “What am I supposed to do with it?”
Well, you’re the filing department; I suppose you could file it. “Celia Yasher told me you needed these shippers right away this morning.”
“Celia Yasher is an idiot.” Taking another swipe at her limp hair, this time with both hands, the girl tucked two strands behind each ear. “There’s nothing we need right away. We’re the last stop on the road to Deadsville for these things.”
So I’m what, a speed bump? Ramona left Filing and checked her watch. It was nearly noon. If she moved slowly enough, she would not have to return to her desk before lunch. Deep in a daydream, she passed through the rows of cubicles, not noticing her surroundings.
“Hello Beautiful. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Jesse stands there, alone in the cavernous lunchroom, dressed in a black tuxedo and holding a white rose out to her. Candlelight reflects back to her from his long, glossy, raven-black hair.
“I was hoping you would be early for lunch today. I’ve ordered something special.”
They sit at a table, in a room warmly lit with candles, the tables covered with white cloths. Somewhere a violin plays soft, romantic music.
“How is your morning going, my dear?” Jesse pours her a glass of wine. The white liquid glitters in the halo of candlelight. “I have thought of you all morning long, waiting for this moment that we could be together.”
“I have been, too Jesse. You have no idea.”
“Well, I think a good lunch will cure everything, don’t you? Now, what are you waiting for? Pick what you want and get going. There are other people who need to eat, you know.”
Ramona shuddered herself out of the romantic scene in her head to see that she was staring at the sandwich vending machine. Someone behind her poked her to move.
“Oh, sorry.” She stepped aside and looked around the now full room. Sighing, she located Neil, who waved to her from a corner table.
“Not eating today?”
“I came from Filing. I left my lunch in my desk.”
“You could have some of my sandwich. I always pack too much.” He held out half of what looked like a cold meatloaf sandwich on crumbling whole wheat bread.
“Thanks, Neil. I’m fine. I’m not hungry anyway.” Ramona looked around their table, somehow hoping to glimpse a swish of long dark hair or a flash of tuxedo. She closed her eyes, straining to hear the soft violin music.
“What?” Ramona regretted her short tone with Neil. It wasn’t his fault she preferred to be surrounded by candlelight and music to the harsh light and sounds of the lunchroom. “I’m sorry. What were you saying?”
“Oh, nothing. I was just saying I have tickets to the Civic Symphony for tonight and wondered if you’d like to go. I’ll even throw in dinner.”
“Oh, I can’t. Wish I could. I’ve got dinner with the parents tonight.”
“Oh. Okay. Maybe another time. I just thought, since you’re such a great musician and all…”
Ramona rubbed her temples, trying to ignore the niggling promise of a headache coming on. “Was, Neil. I was a musician. Now I’m just a person with a job and dinner with the parental units tonight.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Neil took another bite of his sandwich. “Some other time, then.”
Ramona tried not to stare at Neil as he chewed his bland brown sandwich. “I’m going to get back to work. Maybe if I really cruise, I can sneak out early today. God knows I need to prepare for seeing my mother.”
Neil gave her a warm smile as she stood. “Just don’t let Celia see you!”
Back inside her cubicle walls and swathed in Jesse’s music, Ramona noticed little of her surroundings as the afternoon passed. Her fingers floated over the keys as she invented scenarios involving Jesse. A tap on her shoulder shook her out of her reverie.
“Putting in overtime there, Doll?” Bonnie’s nicotine-roughed voice cut through the music in Ramona’s ears.
Ramona pulled off her headphones and looked at the receptionist. “What do you mean?”
“I mean it’s after five, and if your butt isn’t out of that chair in the next two minutes Celia’s going to find you and give you the sermon about unauthorized overtime.”
“That can’t be, lunch was just-oh my.” Ramona looked at her watch and smiled. “I guess I’m not sneaking out early today, am I?”
Bonnie gave her an appreciative whistle. “Is this your stack of done shippers?”
Ramona looked at her full out basket. “I guess I really overachieved today, huh?”
“Just don’t make a habit of it, darlin’.” Bonnie waited as Ramona slipped into her comfortable shoes. The two women walked out together. “Plannin’ on spending some time online tonight?”
“Not until later. Dinner at the parents’ house.”
Bonnie hoisted her round body onto the plush seats of the Buick. “Sounds enthralling. What’s the occasion?”
“Nothing. Probably Mom’s found the perfect match for me and wants to talk about it. I mean, geez, it’s been what, five days since she last mentioned I wasn’t married?”
Bonnie gave her a mock shocked look. “You’re single? How on earth does your mother hold her head up in public?”
Ramona waved as her friend started up her car. Sliding into her vehicle, Ramona turned the key in the ignition and waited for her frozen car to warm. While the engine idled, she let her mind wander to a more pleasant place.
“What took you so long, Beautiful? I waited here in the car all afternoon.”
Jesse sits with his long legs stretched out in the back seat of a black limousine, smiling at her. He holds a glass of champagne out to her. Ramona takes it and smiles at him like a child caught stealing cookies. “I got caught up in work, I guess.”
“That’s a shame. It’s much too pretty a day for you to be cooped up in that office. Promise me tomorrow you’ll play hooky.” He takes her left hand in his and strokes it gently with his long, graceful fingers.
Her heart flutters and her voice is airy as his touch sends a thrill up her spine. “I promise, Jesse. Whatever you want.”
“That’s my girl.” He leans back in the black leather seat and adjusts his cufflinks. “You have a good night with your folks, okay? Tell them I say hi.”
Ramona tore her gaze away from the rearview mirror and looked out her passenger window, where Neil waved to her. “What? What did you say, Neil?”
“You’re having dinner with them, right? Your parents?”
Ramona made a face. “Don’t remind me.”
“You want some back up? Joe Adel said his wife would love to go to the Civic tonight, so I gave him the two tickets. Which means, Miss Simms, I’m free tonight.” He returned Ramona’s ironic smile. Tickets or no, Neil was usually free, and the idea of bringing him to her parents’ house was tempting. Maybe if she brought a date, even Neil, her mother would lay off. Then again, Mom’s always trying to put the two of us together. She shook her head and shifted the car into reverse. “No, it’s okay. Maybe next time.”
“Email me later; let me know how brutal it was.”
Ramona backed her car out of her space before Neil could continue a conversation. She cast hopeful eyes to the mirror one more time, wishing that just once reality would fade away and the daydream would be real.
The late afternoon sunlight cast an optimistically rosy glow on everything in Ramona’s kitchen as she staggered in. Too tired to notice, she flopped face first onto the couch and lay there until a familiar smell reached her.
“LEO!” She jumped up off the couch and strode to her bedroom. Leo huddled in the corner with a penitent look on his very expressive face.
“Leo, I swear you are the stinkiest dog on earth!” Ramona gave him her sternest look. “The vet tells me you need more veggies in your diet. Maybe I should bring home a piece of Mom’s veggie lasagna?”
Leo whined and cowered.
“That’s what I thought. So quit stinking up the house! Do that outside for Pete’s sake!” She checked her watch. “And now I’m going to be totally late for dinner over there if I don’t get a move on.”
She hustled around her bedroom, passing by her computer and resisting the urge to sit down and glide into the world of the internet. “Nope. Not now. I’ll catch up after dinner. I’ll need to then.”
Half an hour later, Ramona checked her reflection in the mirror one more time before throwing on a sweatshirt. She eyed herself critically. “Whoever called them love handles must’ve had an interesting set of luggage.” She looked at herself again, satisfied that the sweatshirt covered her flaws well enough.
“Okay, I’m on my way over now. You sure you don’t want to come along?”
Leo whined and hid his nose under his paws.
“Yeah, I know. I wish I could just stay home and fart up the house, too.” She patted the dog and checked his water dish. “Yeah, you’re good for the rest of the evening. Don’t wait up. I’ll tell you all about it in the morning.”
Leo lifted his head and licked his chops.
“No, we are not ordering pizza when I get home. Not if you keep dropping those atomic stink clouds.”