“Dude! The new girl’s super cute.” Ryan was craning his neck from his seat to look at someone following Carla, the Human Resource Manager.
“Your manager will be with you shortly.” Carla was telling the new girl. “He’ll show you your seat, get your training sorted and any questions you man have can be directed to him and he will be able to help you.” New girl nodded vigorously all the while.
Ryan’s head continued to turn in their direction as they walked across the office. Daniel, Ryan’s best friend reacted rather nonchalantly. “I’m going to make friends with her, and then, you don’t know, maybe she’ll fall in love with me and you’re going to remain single, Dan.” Daniel was too busy with his new project to be drooling over girls, he informed Ryan. Ryan watched the new girl disappear out of sight.
Mr. Murray, the head of Development and Engineering followed Carla and the newbie into a meeting room. Ryan looked back into his screen, smiling to himself. About a half hour later, Mr. Murray walked down Ryan’s aisle. He walked right past Ryan and stopped at Daniel’s desk, close enough for Ryan to eavesdrop.
“Daniel, I need you to do some training for the new employee”
Daniel looked annoyed. “I’m rather busy now, boss. Could you maybe ask someone else to do it?”
“I’ll do it!” Ryan volunteered.
“No.” Mr. Murray waved his hand at him and looked back at Daniel. “It’s not a request Daniel. Get your ass in there and bring her up to speed.”
Daniel sighed and got off his seat. “Lucky jerk.” He heard Ryan say as he walked toward the meeting room. Mr. Murray led the way as he spoke, “She’s very smart, Dan. I took her final interview myself. Very motivated, excellent record even though she has only a year’s experience.”
“She’s right out of college then? Why leave your first job in a year?” Daniel asked judgmentally.
“I asked her the same thing!” Mr. Murray replied enthusiastically. “And she told me that she had already worked with and excelled at everything she was exposed to and she got rather bored and wanted more. Her former manager concurs too.”
The meeting room was small, with a round table in the middle, a whiteboard on the wall and four chairs. The new girl stood up as Mr. Murray and Daniel entered the room. Daniel seemed to hold back for a moment before he closed the door behind.
The girl who stood before him was about five feet four, a good seven or eight inches shorter than him. Her long dark hair was braided and lying over her left shoulder, decorating her curves down to her waistline. She barely had any makeup on, save some eyeliner, enhancing her expressive eyes. Her posture was immaculate, her demeanor intimidating and her lightly colored lips politely smiling.
“This is Joanne Carmen.” Mr. Murray enlightened Daniel. “And Miss Carmen, this is Daniel Wilson. He will guide you throughout your training and anything else you might need as well.” Joanne extended a hand in Daniel’s direction, a gesture which Daniel was forced to oblige.
“Nice to meet you.” She said.
“We have a lot to learn.” Daniel curtly replied and turned to the whiteboard. Mr. Murray left the room right away. Two hours later, Daniel left an exhausted Joanne behind him as he walked out, annoyed at how much time he had wasted when he could’ve made massive progress on his project instead. Joanne sat back in her seat, allowing all the information that was thrown at her to slowly sink in. The notepad in front of her had scribbles all over. Most of them were hers and some were Daniel’s, whenever he struck out her wrong observations and re-explained from scratch. He was too thorough for his own good, she observed.
Ryan bombarded Daniel with questions as he returned even before he sat down. “What’s her name? Is she cute up close as well? Is she smart? What team will she be working with? Is she single? Where does she live? Is she pretty? Is she scary? Is she nice? What’s does she like to eat? Will she be working with us? Did you get her number?”
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Her name is Joanne and the answers to all other questions is ‘I don’t know’.”
“You are the worst wingman a guy can have, Dan”
“How are you not interested in pretty girls? Are you secretly gay or something?”
“Yes.” Dan replied nonchalantly. It was Ryan’s turn to roll his eyes now.
The office’s cubicles seated two adjacently, with their backs to each other, on every row, bordered on one side with a low partition, and a mirror image of this seating arrangement on the other side of said partition. Every such endless row was separated with a four foot wide path way. Ryan sat diagonally behind Daniel but on the other side of the partition. The seat behind Daniel without the partition – which was the seat adjacent to Ryan on the other side of the partition – was empty.
But not for long, and Ryan was eager to see that their team lead, Leah, was escorting Joanne to this very seat. Ryan now noticed a new laptop, and some company merchandise placed on that table – a common practice of welcoming a newcomer.
“This is where you’ll be sitting.” Leah explained. “Make yourself comfortable. I trust you’ve been given some introduction. I’ll be taking the second session after lunch, say around, 2.30? So, you can get your system up and working with the required installs. Daniel and Ryan, ” she said pointing to Joanne’s immediate neighbors, “can help you with anything you might need.” Ryan could almost hear Daniel rolling his eyes through the back of his head. “And once again, welcome!” Joanne thanked her warmly and sat, opening her new laptop. She was excited for this job. She was tired of being overworked and underappreciated at her former workplace. She had left on a slightly bitter note and hoped this place would treat her better.
Ryan lost no time in making conversation. Leah was barely out of sight when Joanne saw a hand appear in front of her face.
“Ryan Edwards, nice to meet you.” Ryan introduced himself.
“Joanne Carmen.” Joanne returned the handshake, smiling.
“So, uh, you’ll be a part of the development team huh? Welcome to the family!”
“Thank you. I’m really looking forward to it.”
“So, um, what do you usually do for fun?”
“Well, I just moved here, so I need to find something new to do. But back home I used to paint a lot. And play music as well.”
“Oh? What instrument do you play?”
“Oh, cool! Well, since you’re here now, I… uh, we could show you around. Lot of fun things to do in this city. Lot of nice people. We usually go bowling every Thursday, uh, directly from work. So, uh, you should join us.”
“That sounds great.”
Ryan sat back down on his seat, pleased with himself. He sent Daniel a text message.
“Dan. I think I’m in love.
“You’re not. You just met this girl.”
“But she’s so pretty!”
“That’s very superficial of you.”
“Well if she got through an interview with Murray then she’s obviously smart too. AND she’s pretty. She’s perfect.”
“Why haven’t you spoken to her yet?”
“I took her first training session.”
“Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say hello after that.”
“Unlike you, I have a LOT of work. Also unlike you, I’m not trying to get into her pants.”
“Fair enough. But you should at least make friends. She sits right next to you.”
“No thanks. I don’t like making new friends. You’re enough of a pain in my life.”
Daniel felt a tap on his shoulder. “Um, excuse me?” Daniel swiveled around in his chair to face a startled Joanne and said curtly, “Yes?”
“Um, I tried logging into the company’s intranet, but it says I need to be provided with access from an administrator. Whom do I ask to get this access?”
“Anyone with access already can give it to you.” Daniel replied. Joanne did not know how that answer would be helpful.
“He means, that any one of us can give you the access.” Ryan interjected leaning over the partition, “I’ll do it for you.” Joanne turned away from Daniel and thanked Ryan.
“You don’t have to be mean.”
Daniel stared at his phone a moment before replying. “I wasn’t being mean.”
“Yes, you were. I know you don’t like new people but you can at least ignore them instead of being a jackass.”
Daniel ignored Ryan and continued with his work. Two hours passed with Joanne making new friends with every bit of help she requested. Gaby, who sat nearby filled her in on all the different products the company had and elaborated on the one she would be working on. Nate filled her in on all the implementation details for the same. Nick, Nate’s brother pointed out the course of improvements taking place in integration across all the products. And Lana, Kate and Rita reminded everyone that it was time for lunch.
“You should join us!” Ryan offered.
” Of course she’s joining us.” Gaby retorted, pulling Joanne off her chair, and threw an arm around her, “She’s stuck with us now.”
“I’m very glad I am.” Joanne smiled as she walked amidst her new bunch of friends. Ryan, as much he considered Daniel as a negative influence on his love life, also needed him around to place his moves on a girl and so dragged him away from his work for lunch. The team had lunch on one of the many balconies jutting out of the high rise building, adorned with floral creepers along the high railing. They settled at a rectangular table large enough to fit the twelve of them. Lunch went by with Joanne being asked numerous questions about her life, how she had applied for the job, exchanging phone numbers, surfing her phone to see pictures of her paintings, making fun of Daniel for being too immersed in his work, Ryan throwing ideas about group outings, all to which Joanne was also invited – by which time Leah reminded Joanne of their post-lunch session which was due in a few minutes.
“Daniel, I’d like you to join in on the session.” Leah said, rising from the table.
“Well, because you’ve been here three years and you’re well versed with the development process and the product and we could use that to train someone. Why else?”
Daniel didn’t object this time fearing Leah might bring up his reluctance to help whilst any conversation with Mr. Murray. He looked up to the two of them and tried his best to maintain a positive opinion of himself with them. Ryan volunteered, again, only to be dismissed, again. Daniel was clearly a better tutor.
Another two hours was spent in explaining the specifications of the product that Joanne would be developing, its architecture and design, and finally, she was assigned with some bugs to start off with. “Solving bugs is a great way to find your way around the code.” Leah told her. Daniel was glad this session was over and was the first to leave the room. He sat annoyed at his seat for the second time that day. Honestly, people didn’t know better than to waste his time.
Joanne, on the other hand was delighted with all the new knowledge she was gaining. She finally felt she was in a line of work that she enjoyed. Leah had informed her that she could leave for the day. Joanne decided it was good opportunity to buy a few things for her new house. It was a simple, single bedroom house with space enough for a dining area, an open kitchen and French windows leading to a balcony. She was lucky to find a semi-furnished house too – it had a couch, cupboards, shelves, refrigerator, dining table that seated two, a bed and a walk-in-closet that had cloth hangers inside. She had bought groceries already, so something for recreation, she thought.
She returned to her table and stuffed all the merchandise given by the company into her new laptop bag, also given by the company. Ryan asked how she would spend the rest of the day and she told him of her plan of buying some art material on the way home.
“Oh, Dan and I could come along and help.” Ryan offered enthusiastically, and added as an afterthought, “So you don’t lose your way or anything, because you’re new to the city and what not and it would help if someone went along, so you can find your way back, you know?” Ryan was aware of the risk of dragging Daniel away from his work. But he did it anyways.
“Oh, that’s alright,” Joanne was quick to stop his rambling. She sensed Daniel wouldn’t want to be pulled away from his desk yet again. “I have Google maps to help. I’ll be alright. Thank you, though.”
“Oh, no, we insist” Ryan pursued. “Right Dan?”
Daniel decided he wasn’t going to get any work done today anyways. He might as well go home early and pick up where he left off tomorrow. “Sure.” was all he said as he began to pack up.
“Great!” Ryan was sure he’d be punched later. But for now, the three of them set out on foot toward the nearest art store. It was cold outside – the skies were gloomy but it hadn’t begun to snow yet. As they walked, Daniel simply listened to Ryan and Joanne talk about how they enjoyed this weather, about what their favorite pastas were and what TV shows each of them were currently watching. Ryan really did seem to like this girl. Daniel soon tuned out their chatter and stared blankly ahead.
This continued on through the art store and until Joanne’s house. She felt it would be odd to invite the two of them in, but also felt it would be rude not to. Ryan shared the exact same thoughts.
“Thanks for walking me home.” She said, pausing to think about what she should say next. Ryan and Daniel were also silent for the moment before Daniel finally rolled his eyes and broke the silence.
“We’ll see you at work tomorrow then.” he said and took a step back and pulled Ryan with him as he turned.
“Yeah! Thanks again.” You could almost hear the relief in her voice.
“Bye!” Ryan waved as they walked away from her and Joanne waved back.
About a month passed as Joanne got better and better at her job. She had more of a social life that she did before. She was glad she had left her old job. Her new friends turned out to be her new family. She and Gaby would hang out a lot – go to the movies or have dinner together. It was snowing and Joanne had decided to walk to work that day instead of taking the bus. She liked the cold and the feel of snow below her heeled boots. Besides, she needed to clear her mind about what had happened yesterday. A conversation that she had with Gaby now crossed her mind.
“Ryan likes you, you know.” Gaby had told her over brunch a week ago.
“That’s not true.” Joanne was quick to dismiss the idea.
“Oh, really?” Gaby put down her fork and pointed a finger at Joanne. “Haven’t you guys been texting a lot lately?”
Joanne sat back in slight surprise. “How would you know that?”
“Well, Ryan talks a lot in general and now he talks a lot about you and Daniel really can’t stand his talking for too long so I get dragged into listening to Ryan talk a lot about you. That’s how I know.”
“What ‘oh’?? He likes you!”
“Well, I mean, I don’t really, like, you know, like him that way, like, not that he’s not a nice guy or anything, it’s just, I just don’t, you know, I don’t, um, really, um feel that way about him…”
“Hey, whoa, relax,” Gaby placed her hand over Joanne’s. “No one’s saying you HAVE to like him. I just thought since you guys text a lot, it might mean something to you.”
“No, I thought it would be impolite not to respond. I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to lead him on.”
“Sweetie, you have nothing to be sorry about and no one said you led him on.”
“But I don’t want him to get the wrong impression.”
“He won’t. He’s a nice guy and he understands that you can’t always expect someone to like you back just because you like them.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“I am. So, you can relax now.”
Joanne now realized that she could’ve prevented what happened yesterday, or at least dealt with it differently. Nothing she could do about it now. She just didn’t want to ruin friendships within a month of having made them. As her mind drowned in these thoughts, Joanne now realized that she was standing on a pavement in a street she had never seen before. Frantically turning left and right did not help. Neither did her phone which lad lost connection to her trusted Google maps. She stood alone and confused amidst people hurrying past her.
A car had stopped before Joanne and a familiar voice called out. “Are you lost or something?” Daniel leaned over from the driver’s seat of the car and beckoned a confused Joanne to join him. “Come on. You can ride with me.”
“Thanks. I don’t know how I got here. Google maps said it was a shorter route.”
“Oh, well, I guess I just wasn’t concentrating on, uh, the route…” Joanne looked at her phone and trailed off.
“You’ve been here about a month and you still don’t know the route?”
“Yeah, I, uh, must’ve zoned out a bit.”
“Everything alright?” Daniel slowed the car to a halt and looked at Joanne, who seemed like she was arguing with herself.
“Yeah… not really, it’s just, ugh, I don’t know what to do.”
Daniel stared at the girl in the passenger seat of his car. She truly was very beautiful. Her scent lingered in the air. Except that right now she had her head in her hands and her neatly combed hair was getting messy. He felt obliged to care for her.
“Did you have breakfast yet?” he asked instead.
Joanne was slightly confused by this irrelevant question. “No, I haven’t. I woke up late and didn’t have the time.”
“Great. Let’s have breakfast then.” Daniel parked the car near a cafe which he informed Joanne that he frequented. They sat at a table and he ordered for the two of them. The coffee came first. As she sipped on her coffee, Daniel asked, “So, what happened?”
“Yesterday, um, Ryan had… I, uh, I… I don’t know if I can tell you.”
“You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” Joanne looked at Daniel with his mouth in a coffee mug. Was he always this calm every time they hung out? She just never noticed because Ryan was always the one talking. She didn’t know why but she decided she trusted Daniel.
“Ryan came over to my place yesterday.” she began. “Actually, he just stood downstairs and called me. And asked if I wanted to get some pizza. I assumed you and Gaby would be there too and agreed but it was just him when I came down. And I thought it wasn’t a big deal but then he had bought be some flowers and then later at the restaurant when we were almost done eating he kinda… well, he sort of, um…” Daniel didn’t interrupt and waited patiently. “He asked me if I was interested in being his girlfriend… And I just sort of freaked out and I said ‘No’ and I apologized and then he apologized and then I forced him to split the bill but I guess that made things worse and then we didn’t speak on the way back and I told him it wasn’t necessary but he dropped me till my place anyways and now I’m afraid it’s going to be super awkward at work and I don’t know what to do….”
The waitress appeared at their table with the order. Fresh sandwiches and scrambled eggs were placed on the table and their coffee mugs refilled – well, just Daniel’s mug, Joanne hadn’t exactly drunk much yet. “Do you like him back?” Daniel asked after the waitress left.
“No, I don’t.”
“Then what are you worried about?”
“I just moved here and I love it and I feel that when people hear about this, they’re going to think I’m a horrible person for rejecting their friend and they’re all going to hate me and I won’t have any friends anymore.” Joanne said all of that in a rush and was nearly out of breath by the end of it.
Daniel laughed despite himself. Joanne stared at him, slightly annoyed. “What’s so funny?”
“You have one hell of an imagination.” Daniel continued to laugh a few more moments before he resumed. “Look. No one is going to hate you. It’s not your fault he likes you. Rejecting someone isn’t a crime. Everything will be fine and this will just be something that people will laugh about someday, if at all they remember it. Just talk to Ryan, if needed. He’s mature enough to handle this. You have nothing to worry about, okay? If everyone starts hating you, don’t worry – I’ll still be your friend.”
“What if people hate you for being my friend?”
“I don’t really care what people think.”
Joanne smiled. “Thanks.”
Daniel returned her smile. “Now that you’re smiling, finish your breakfast and we can get back to work.”
They talked over breakfast. Daniel watched Joanne talk about the things she loved. He watched her every movement. He noticed how she didn’t tie her hair up today. He noticed the charm that her uneven teeth added to her face. He watched her slender fingers move her hair out of her face. He watched her lips as she spoke. He listened to the words she used. He noticed her sense of humor – the way she captivated her audience while she spoke. He noticed that he was noticing too much.
Joanne and Daniel discussed much more by the time they reached work – her art, what kind of movies they both liked, that new project that he was so obsessed about, what kind of books they both read, what food tasted the best and what music surpassed the rest. Joanne realized that she never actually sat down and spoke with this person. He was always just there – very taciturn in nature, but quite the conversationalist. He had such a disarming smile, she thought.
Gaby drew attention to Daniel and Joanne as they took their seats. “Late to work.” She stated.
“Well, Gaby, we don’t have a policy of entry and exit times so there is no such thing as being late to work.” Daniel retorted.
“But later than usual. What were you two up to?”
At that moment, Joanne asked Ryan if he would accompany her to the balcony. She decided to heed Daniel’s advice and talk this out. Ryan followed her as Daniel explained to Gaby how he found Joanne was lost and that he gave her a ride here. He decided it wasn’t his place to mention the incident with Ryan. Which was why he was startled when Gaby brought it up.
“Did you know Ryan asked Joanne out?”
“Yeah. He called me last night and told me about it.”
“Why didn’t he call me? He’s always calling me about everything else.”
“I asked the same thing and he said if he had told you, you would’ve punched him and then mocked him.”
“Yeah that sounds about right.”
“She said no.”
“Maybe because she doesn’t like him back.” Daniel said sarcastically.
“I already know that, Dan. I asked about this last week and she told me she didn’t want ruin any friendships and she was afraid she might have led him on.”
“Yeah, well, she thought that. And I told her there was nothing to worry about. Okay they’re coming back I’m going to my seat bye.”
Daniel turned his chair around to his desk and began his work. Ryan and Joanne walked back to their seats and seemed to be making light conversation.
Later that day, Ryan told Daniel everything. “I didn’t tell you because I thought you might get mad.” He told Daniel.
“That’s not very nice of you.”
“Dan, you’re my best friend. But I’m terribly afraid of you, man.”
“Good.” They laughed.
“But she’s out of my league dude.” Ryan said, leaning over the balcony where they stood. “She’s simply too good for me. I don’t think I can keep a girl like that. She’s too perfect. She was so sweet, she didn’t want me to feel awkward so she split the bill last night. So polite. And she’s way smarter than me. I can’t match up to that.”
Daniel didn’t respond. Instead he simply turned in the direction that Ryan was looking in. There wasn’t much to say. You can never force someone to fall in love. But one question Daniel did want to ask.
“Did you really fall in love with her? Or were you just playing around?”
Ryan laughed. “I actually really fell in love with her.”
As they returned to their seats, Gaby had the entire team gathered around her desk. “Just decide on one place, people.”
“For what?” Ryan asked as he and Daniel joined the gathering.
“We’re going dancing. Next week, Thursday.” Nick informed him. “And we’re deciding on a place.”
Daniel backed out immediately. “I’m out.” He wasn’t one for loud music and crowded places. His friends had long given up on trying to get him to join them. “I don’t drink or dance. Call me if you’re having nice food in a quiet restaurant.” He had once told them. After a twenty-minute discussion, they decided on a place and Thursday at Jeff’s Pub came by soon.
Gaby, Lisa, Kate, Rita and Joanne gathered at Gaby’s house on Thursday. “You need more makeup on your face.” Gaby said to Joanne. Joanne didn’t like putting on makeup but she let Gaby paint her face anyway. She didn’t regret it for when she finally stared at herself in the mirror, a more confident and model-worthy face stared back at her.
“Wow… this is like, wow, Gaby, this is amazing, like, look at my face, wow… thank you!”
Gaby simply smiled with pride at her handiwork. She informed Joanne that she would’ve preferred a different dress on her as well but this will do for now. Joanne had never been to a pub before and Gaby promised to open the door to new things in Joanne’s life. Not unlike Daniel, Joanne didn’t like loud music or crowded places either but she didn’t want to disappoint her new friends. She even tried to dress up – a sleeveless navy blue dress that was decorated with black shear material, the lower half of the dress transcending into a flowy mass down to her knee. The other girls all wore something very short and very tight.
They met the rest of the team at the pub. The music was way louder than Joanne thought it would be and equally crowded. As Gaby placed a vodka shot in Joanne’s hand, she immediately returned it much to the surprise of Gaby. “I don’t drink.” She said. The others took their shots and landed on the dancefloor. Joanne stayed back for a while till about seven guys came around one after the other and asked to dance with her, or tried to buy her a drink. She finally entered the dancefloor hoping to find one of her friends. Soon enough, some guy sidled up against Joanne and danced close to her. A little too close. Joanne was uncomfortable and began to feel rather claustrophobic. So many people were around her – no one would hear her even if she shouted their name. She looked around to find someone she knew but everyone was drunk and dancing way too close to someone or the other. The bloke trying to dance with her now had his hands on her waist.
Joanne decided she had had enough of this and squeezed her way out of the dancefloor and into the restroom. There were a ton of women inside, re-applying their makeup. She found an empty cubicle and went inside. She wasn’t enjoying the night. She was hungry and she just wanted to go home. Her phone rang and Daniel’s name flashed across the screen.
“Hey,” Daniel’s voice came from the other side. “I need your help with some work thing. What’s the plugin you used when – wait, are you at the pub? This can wait if you’re busy.”
“No, no, I’m not busy, tell me.”
“You aren’t dancing and getting drunk?”
“Um, not really my cup of tea. I don’t drink and the music is too loud and the people are too weird and I’m just going to hide here in the bathroom till we’re ready to leave.”
“Are you serious?!” She could almost hear Daniel roll his eyes over the phone. “Why don’t you just leave now?”
“I, uh, don’t exactly know where we are and it’s kinda dark outside and I don’t want to get lost…”
“And you think going home with a bunch of drunk people is better?”
“Okay wait there. Jeff’s Pub, right? I’ll come pick you up.”
“What? No, Daniel, it’s okay. You don’t have to – “
“I know I don’t have to. I want to.” Saying that, Daniel hung up.
Joanne stared at her phone. She really didn’t want to bother him but she was more than glad that he was going to get her out of here. She stayed inside the bathroom till ten minutes later, Daniel called again. “I’m waiting outside.”
Joanne grabbed her clutch and hurriedly left the bathroom. She found Gaby on the way and shouted over the music that she was leaving. Gaby was too drunk to comprehend anything and gave her a thumbs-up in response. Joanne didn’t bother with any clarifications and proceeded to the exit as fast as the crowd would allow her.
Daniel was waiting outside, leaning against the pavement railing, looking at his phone. Joanne had never been happier to see him. Daniel looked at the girl approaching him. She looked more beautiful than ever. Her neat legs and her curvy figure and her hair flying in the cold wind… he just wanted to grab her and kiss her.
He saw her just as she was leaving the exit and began walking towards her, but Joanne simply ran toward him in her heels and threw her arms around Daniel. “Thank you. I hate it in there!” She said into his chest. Daniel returned the hug. She smelled so nice.
“Jo, you’re freezing.” He told her, holding her by her arms.
“Yeah, well, it’s snowing and I came by car with no coat so…”
“Here,” he said, and took off his jacket before helping Joanne into it.
“What about you? Won’t you be cold?”
“I have two more layers on me, I’ll be fine.” Daniel offered his arm, which Joanne gladly linked with hers. He even offered to hold her clutch for her. They walked slowly down the snow-covered road.
“So,” he smiled down at her, “why did you hate it in there?”
“It’s horrible!” Her expression concurred with her opinion. “Everyone is so drunk and the music is so loud and people keep hitting on me and, ugh, it so horrible.” She tightened her grip on his arm. “I’ve never been to a pub and I didn’t want to be a spoilsport but I don’t drink and I don’t like crowded places. Ugh.” Daniel laughed.
“You don’t have to do something if you don’t want to, Joanne.”
“Yeah, well, I know that. But, ugh, whatever. That was the worst.”
“Well, have you eaten yet?”
“No, I think I’ll make some pasta when I get home.”
“Or, you know, we could eat outside.” He smiled at her again. Joanne liked his smile. “Only if you want to.”
“I’d like that,” she said, returning his smile.
“Great. I know this place down the road.”
Dinner was so much more enjoyable to Joanne than a pub could be any day. And she got to share it with someone who enjoyed it with her. Joanne noticed more and more about Daniel as she sat across from him. His wavy, dark, soft hair. His gleaming, jet black eyes. Those broad shoulders. That very charming smile. Those hands that helped her into his jacket. That perfect jawline. She found herself losing track of what he was saying and decided to concentrate now.
“We should go bowling sometime. I like bowling.” He was saying.
“We could go right now, after dinner.” Joanne liked bowling too, but more importantly, she really didn’t want to go home. She enjoyed Daniel’s company and wanted to spend more time with him.
“Oh. I guess so, yeah, we should!”
And so, forty-five minutes later, Daniel watched Joanne score a strike and walk back to him victoriously. “I’m gonna win,” she told him.
“Yeah right. We’ll see, won’t we?”
They laughed and played and taught each other their strategies, but finally, with one last strike, Joanne won the game. She jumped like a child and bounced towards Daniel. Daniel couldn’t stop smiling. She looked so happy and that made him so happy. He wanted to see that smile all the time. He wanted to spend every evening with her. Every day and every evening and every night. As she came near him with arms wide open, he picked her up in his arms and returned her hug.
“I won! I won!” She told him, stepping back.
“Yeah! You did!” She was laughing in his arms and Daniel laughed with her.
As they walked home, holding hands, neither said a word. But they both were smiling, content with the fact that they were just near each other. Occasionally, they would look at each other and smile. Daniel put his arm around her and moved her closer to him as they walked.
“Thanks for today.” Joanne told him as he left her at her door, and returned his coat.
“It was my pleasure.”
“Would you like to come in for some coffee?” she said as an afterthought.
The walls of Joanne’s apartment were decorated with her art. Paintings were everywhere.
“You’re an amazing artist.” He told her. She playfully curtseyed.
They took a mug each and settled on Joanne’s bed. They continued to talk about things other than what they wanted to talk about. The coffee mugs were soon empty and were placed on the table. Daniel put his arm around Joanne and she rested her head on this shoulder, her torso on his torso. He stroked her back as they sat this way and for a while, nothing was spoken. Until Daniel shifted, causing Joanne to get up and face him. She let his other hand trace the edge of her face, cupping her chin as he leaned in, closer to her face.
She didn’t stop him and she didn’t run away from his grasp. When his lips touched hers, she returned the gesture, pulling his head closer, her fingers in his hair and he, with one arm around her waist and one hand through her hair, he kissed her gently and passionately taking his time in making her breathless. Her lips were soft, and his were caring and they tasted each other for a few minutes before breaking free.
“Right, uh, I forgot to ask.” Daniel said, Joanne still in his arms.
“What is it?”
“Uh, well, I kinda really like you, and, um, I’d like it if you could be mine… If that’s alright with you.”
Joanne laughed. “Yeah… Yeah, I’d like that.”
Daniel grinned, pulled her close and kissed her again.
Look nearby, there’s a story of a man who traveled the world seeking gold, not knowing his backyard was abundant with it.
And so he traveled, over valleys and hills, through rain and snow, bearing heat and cold, until he returned home exhausted.
The beauty he had abandoned stood at the doorway, her look questioning his decisions. “Have you finally found it?” asked she.
“Nay.” replied he, with sorrow in his eyes. He walked forward, hoping to be embraced, for it had been many a day since he felt love.
But the laconic figure walked away. He staggered behind her, grasping for the frill of her dress but she just seemed to be getting farther away from him.
Everything he wanted evaded him. But what was it, exactly, that he wanted? Riches? Or love?
Where was the gold, that he so relentlessly searched? Where were the riches that left him despondent, reduced to a derisory amalgam?
And then he saw it. All he needed was right before him. With one final burst of ardor he reached for her arm and stopped her in her tracks.
“Forgive me, my love!” he pleaded. “You are all I need. You are more to me than all the gold on this Earth. You are my world. I will never leave again.”
She wasn’t amenable, but his eyes seemed to pierce into hers. “I do not believe you” she said, but stayed in his arms.
“I promise.” said he and he kissed like it was the first time. Her body betrayed her intentions as she gave into the embrace and pulled him closer.
There’s a story of a man who traveled the world seeking gold, never found it and returned, only to decide that love was far greater than anything gold would bring him.
Do you know what it feels like
When you become someone’s second
And know for sure you’re not as important to them
As you were before
Remembering how you used to think
That they would always give you
Their highest priority
All the times they told you how
You’ll always be their first
Now has you thinking
How much of a fool you were
Blindly believing, blatantly trusting
Almost sure that this time
It might be true
That perhaps, for once, your love
Would be returned equally or more
But you were wrong
They think you haven’t noticed
Or maybe they haven’t realized it themselves
That you will soon stop loving them
Very soon, you would distance yourself
And refuse to tolerate the fact
That you’re expected to love someone
When they’ve already replaced you
You can see it in the little things
That they usually did with you
But do no more
Do you know what it feels like
To feel the distance grow
Watching what’s familiar fade away
Do you know what it feels like
To become a stranger to someone so close
Do you know what it feels like to be left
With nothing but memories
Because I do.
Opening his eyes, the world seemed to be crumbling around him. All the buildings were burnt down and lifeless bodies lay strewn around in every direction. He gasped from lack of breath. With all the strength left in him, he dragged himself to his feet and staggered in a random direction. Where was Ryuk anyway? Ryuk was supposed to be protecting him.
Trees were left charred to the ground and thick, black smoke was seeping out of everything around him. Someone in the distance lifted a hand in his direction, seeking his help, before falling back to the ground. He couldn’t have helped even if he wanted to. He kept walking calling out to Ryuk, but Ryuk was nowhere to be found. Another building collapsed on his left, but he just kept walking.
Ryuk was the only person in the world that he trusted. Ryuk was the only person in the world who would be there for him, always. He looked down at his bleeding arm as he trotted alongside a once beautiful house. His house. His home. He paused for a moment before he found the strength to go inside.
“Ryuk?” he called out as he entered the gates. No answer. Only the far off sound of mayhem could be heard. He walked up to the open door, black from the effect of fire. The house was nearly reduced to ashes, barely recognizable after the ordeal it had suffered.
“Ryuk?” he called out again. Still no answer.
“Ryuk!!” he was shouting now.
“Dan!!” shouted a voice in reply. The voice of, not Ryuk, but his brother Luke.
“Luke?!” Dan shouted back, following the direction of his brother’s voice. A second later he heard a gunshot. Turning around a broken wall, Dan saw Luke on the ground, his body tranquil and bloody. And there stood Ryuk, pointing a gun at the body on the ground.
Ryuk turned around to face the betrayed eyes of Dan. Ryuk didn’t smile, Ryuk didn’t even budge. And suddenly Dan understood. Ryuk wasn’t sent to protect him, Ryuk was the reason all of this was happening. Ryuk was the reason his brother was dead. Ryuk is the reason he was going to die.
“Ryuk…” he began.
“I’m sorry,” Ryuk said, now pointing his gun at Dan, “I really am.”
And the last thing Dan remembered before he slipped into oblivion was the tear that slid down Ryuk’s cheek.
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