The Scream of a Love Affair
Secrecy Grows in the Darkness
Being the only female in an all-male department creates its own awkwardness, but later becomes more pronounced when the testosterone talk makes Christina uncomfortable. Eventually, she learns to head for the darkroom to create proofs.
Maybe her boss hired her to even out the hormones, but later he makes it clear that he enjoys having her around for her attire—tight jeans (his words), cowboy boots, and the t-shirt of the day. She sloughs off the sexual harassment vowing to stay true to herself. She doesn't change her dress code but lives into the tomboy that she is.
The company she works for is two-fold: an ad agency on one side and a service bureau on the other side. It is the early 90's and service bureaus are used by graphic designers to flight check work and make proofs before sending it to a printer.
As a recent Advertising Design graduate, Christina hoped to be hired on the ad agency side, but there were no positions available, so she takes the offer to work in the service bureau, hoping to transition.
Christina, young and single, refers to herself as a dating drifter, always searching for “that person,” but too much of a commitment-phobe to truly settle down. Her new, male co-workers are both married, so her woes of single life continually fall on deaf ears, but that doesn't stop one of the guys from flirting with her.
Since Christina isn't dating at the moment, she welcomes flirting, even on happy hour Fridays, a tradition of the office where someone buys beer from the nearby liquor store at 4 pm. Instead of going out to happy hour they bring happy into the office. The office, located in downtown Washington DC, makes it easy for everyone to commute by subway, eliminating the concern for drinking and driving.
Christina’s commute is easy — a 10-minute walk to the subway station, a 10-minute ride on the train, and a 10-minute walk on the other side. It isn't always comfortable on Fridays when she, the lightweight would have more than one beer, but she always cuts herself off before getting sloshed.
On that Friday, flirty guy had been dancing in flirtation all damn day, so it doesn't phase her as he flirts six sips into her beer. After all, what's one more sip of beer amongst the smiling eyes and sexy compliments?
When she reaches her limit, she grabs her coat, “Okay, I gotta’ go.”
Flirty guy’s head snaps in her direction while jealous girl from the ad agency shoots daggers. “I’ll … I’ll … I’ll go get more beer!” he says running behind Christina. “Do you really need to go so soon?” he asks as they stand at the elevator.
“Yeah. I do.”
As the elevator descends, they continue making small talk, his eyes smiling at her. Christina meets every gaze like a smooth bourbon going down. Nearing the bottom, he lunges in, kissing her sweetly. As he pulls away, his dancing eyes soften, pulling her deeper into the toying web of sparks.
Walking to the metro, she smiles--thoughts of that kiss swirling in her head all the way home. Later that night she drifts to sleep thinking about his dancing eyes and that kiss!
RING! RING! RING!
Her hands reach into the darkness for the phone that sits next to her bed—always making sure her mother can reach her in case she has called 911 for her father.
“Is he there?”
She feels her eyes scrunching up, trying to get the sleep out. “What time is it?”
“Is he there?”
“Who is this?!” There is a pause before the voice on the other end says her name. It’s jealous girl.
“Who, he?” Christina asks with the groggiest of voices.
“Him?! Her panic seeps through the phone line, managing to shake Christina awake.
“What time is it?” she finally switches the light on to see the clock. “For the love of God! It’s 1 am!” Christina says, dropping the phone in the cradle.
BACK AT WORK
Monday morning when Christina walks back into the office, she sees jealous girl hovering in the service bureau around flirty guy’s desk. She is making small talk and Christina is preparing for a confrontation. Minutes later, jealous girl turns to leave. Seeing Christina, she says, “Good morning! How are you?”
“I’m good, I’m good.”
“Have a great day!” she says prancing off.
Christina jumps into work, hoping to skirt any awkwardness with flirty guy, relieved that her desk is a distance away, facing a different direction.
She didn’t want to see dancing eyes or smiling face or have any recalls of the sweet kiss because sweet kiss was stomped on hours ago.
“Good morning,” he said with syrup and cherries and whip cream on top. She felt his eyes on her.
Later, she volunteers to make prints in the darkroom, hoping to put more distance between each other, but he follows her in to check on a job.
“How are you?” he asks.
She keeps her eyes down. “Ok,” she answers, her voice cracking.
She had rehearsed her answer for over 24 hours. “It could be better.”
His hand reaches out to touch her. The warmth of skin-on-skin makes her jump, snapping her hand away. “What happened?”
“Uhhhh…. a 1 am call from her is what happened.”
“Her…she was just talking to you!” she says in frustration.
The air becomes still as the pregnant pause envelopes them. He reaches out again. She lets him hold her hand for a second before she moves away.
“Can I call you tonight?”
“I might not be home.”
“Ok. Can I walk you out tonight?”
“Do you have to?” she says with a heavy sigh.
“I’d like to.”
“Sure sure. Why not?”
When 5 pm comes, she keeps working, knowing he has to leave to meet his wife. Her body relaxes as she hears the front door shut. About 15 minutes later, she packs up and heads out.
As she exits the building, she hears his voice rushing up behind her, “Hey wait.” It is always syrup and always the perfect color on the perfect canvas. Her body tenses.
“What’s up?” she asks picking up the pace.
“I want to know what you meant by your statement earlier. What does her calling you have to do with how you’re doing?”
“Yeaaahhhh…. you’re married and I don’t want to get involved in whatever other business you got going on.” She tries to move past him.
“What?” She turns on her heels to face him, making the mistake of looking into the dance.
“I had a thing with her, but it’s over.” His shoulders drop an inch.
Walk away, walk away. Their eyes lock together as the stand on a busy corner during rush hour. “Can I call you tonight?”
She feels her body sigh. “Sure.” Did she really say that? Did she? Because she wanted to shout HELL NO! Didn’t you just hear me?
From that night and every night for the next few months, he calls at midnight, way after his wife goes to bed. He calls and they whisper for at least an hour every night. They whisper about dreams and joys and pains and how you like your coffee. They allow themselves to get caught up in the thought of being together long-term as they whisper deep into the night. One night, just as they are hanging up, he says, “I love you too.”
The mixture of warmth and guilt washes over her like drinking a smooth bourbon in an icy cold shower as she prepares to jump off a cliff.
Days at the office are never the same. They are lighter, filled with more laughter and joy. The work seems easy as they both become enamored with the dance of work, love, and whispers.
And then one Friday night during office happy hour, jealous girl asks if Christina wants to go out for a drink. They hadn’t spoken since the hang-up, but she wants to apologize.
It didn’t end up being an apology as much as it was another evening of spiraling into her emotionally chaotic mess.
Sitting on barstools with another drink, it was that “my grandfather molested me” statement that makes Christina realize that jealous girl is hurting, so she allows herself to listen, unaware of the moment when jealous girl traps her in her web. Christina listens to her confessions of sleeping with the Art Director, her current boss. She listens to her gush on about their professed love for one another. And then, just as easily as she professed and confessed, she says, “Ok, it’s time to go home.”
Later that night, after jealous girl drops her off, and Christina is deep into an alcohol-induced sleep, the phone rings. Grabbing into the darkness, she pulls the phone up to her ear, “Hello?”
“I know you’re seeing him,” the voice says.
“I know you’re seeing him.”
The sleep leaves as Christina pushes herself up in bed. “What are you talking about?!”
“I know you’re seeing him,” her voice becoming more irritated.
Christina places the phone back on its cradle.
Monday comes and goes, and so do the many Mondays after it. Jealous girl calls from time to time, always accusing her, always frantic. One night, in a state of clarity, Christina screams, “What difference does it make to you anyway?!”
“Because I’m seeing him,” she says.
About the author
Find my writing in “Mixed Korean: Our Stories," "Together At Last: Stories of Adoption and Reunion in the Age of DNA," Cultural Daily and Women in Theology. Passionate about herbal health and inspiration.