“Love you, too, Olivia.”
“Yeah. And congrats.” She made the word sound as non-congratulatory as humanly possible.
“Thanks.” I made a face and ended the call. Stuffing the phone into my purse, I pulled into a spot. I took a moment—a head against the headrest, take a deep breath, put a f**king game face on moment—that did absolutely nothing to calm my nerves. Then I, with my big ass rock, opened the car door.
7:45 a.m.: The doomed walk of the dead through the lobby. I shielded my ring finger with my purse and smiled a brief hello to Ancient Dorothy, bee-lining for the elevators. I rode up alone, taking advantage of the silence to whisper a short prayer—apologizing for any recent sins and praying for compassion.
I was making coffee when the first person noticed the ring. It was hard to miss, sparkling brilliantly under overhead fluorescents, and Beverly, the wing’s secretary, pounced on it like a kitten going after catnip. “What is that?” She dropped her lunch box in the fridge and grabbed my hand with both of hers, oblivious to the dirty coffee filter I was holding, and I watched in irritation as used grounds flew everywhere, spotting the white tile with black specks. Her squat body was rooted to the ground, and she gripped my hand with a warrior’s intensity, her eyes fixated on the ring like it was a steaming hot funnel cake. I tried to gently tug my hand away, but it was like trying to pull Excalibur’s sword from the stone.
“I didn’t know you were dating anyone!” Beverly’s eyes left the stone and focused on me intently. “Did you get back together with your ex?”
“Errr ... No.” I smiled, though I think it came off more like a grimace. “This is someone new.”
“And you’re already engaged?” She tilted her head at me, puzzled, and I cursed the day I ever shared a moment of personal discussion with this woman, or any other creature on this floor.
“Yes. It is quite sudden.” I looked pointedly at the deflated coffee filter, and she released my hand with a quick, hurried movement.
“Oh my goodness, dear, I am sorry.”
I smiled and moved to the trash, dumping the filter and hoping she would leave.
“That is quite a ring. What does your fiancé do?” She moved closer, officially entering my personal bubble.
Aw crap. “He’s an attorney,” I said offhand, washing my hands as noisily as possible, then started opening and closing cabinets, trying to put as many items and sounds between Beverly and me as possible. “I really can’t chat, Beverly. I’ve got to get this coffee on.”
“An attorney!” She beamed proudly. “Well, I know lots of attorneys. You know, I’ve been here thirteen years, and our cases involve firms from all over the city. He’s got to be a new attorney, maybe he interned here. What’s his name?”
I filled up the water reservoir, making a face and pointing to my ear, as if the pathetic pressure from the faucet was a gushing flow of Niagara proportions. That didn’t work. She waited patiently by the sink, and the minute I turned the faucet off, she spoke. “What’s his name?”
Fuck, f**k, f**k, f**k, f**k. I was out of options. “I think you probably know him,” I said brightly, adding the water container to the coffee pot, and scooping out fresh grounds. “He works in the East Wing. His name is Brad.”
I really didn’t want to look at her, didn’t want to see whatever expression crossed her face, but my eyes were drawn to her without bidding, as if they had flipped my subconscious the bird and did exactly what they wanted to because ohmygodthiswasgoingtobetoogoodtomiss. She tilted her head, probably trying to think what peon in the East Wing was named Brad, because it couldn’t possibly be the Brad, and I watched with slow horror the moment her mind came up blank and rested on the only possible conclusion.
She stilled, her sturdy body freezing, and teetered a bit, sticking a hand out and grabbing the counter. Her face took on an odd expression, somewhere between smelling something sour and being constipated. It contorted for three long seconds, in which her mouth opened and closed twice, no words coming out. Finally, she swallowed hard and tried again.
“Brad De Luca?” Her voice still held a glimmer of hope, a possibility that she might be mistaken, that there was some new guy, some pencil-pushing nerd stuck in a small corner of divorce, who she hadn’t yet heard of. Some Brad Smith, or Taylor, or anything other than De Luca. I hated to squash that hope, almost felt a civil duty to lie. Almost.
I finished the damn coffee-making process and pushed START with an almost proud finality. Made it through that alive. Then, I turned back to Beverly. “Yes. Brad De Luca. Good, you do know him.” We did this weird country line dance shuffle where I tried to get around her, and she unintentionally kept getting in my way, and then I finally escaped, and was halfway out the door when I felt her iron grip on my arm. I turned, pasting a bright smile on my face. “Yes?”
I was yanked backward so hard I think one of my heels partially came off. Unsure, confused Beverly was gone, and in her place was a court marshal of Judge Judy proportions. She shut the kitchen door in a swift motion—I didn’t even know the kitchen had a door—and stuck both hands on her hips, squaring off to me. “You. Are Engaged. To Brad. De Luca.” She spoke slowly, drawing out the sentence excruciatingly, and seemed to physically grow bigger with every word.
“Yes.” I tried to maintain a cheerful disposition, but the air in the room was thick, and I was a little worried she might eat me for lunch instead of whatever was in her polka-dotted lunchbox.
“The Brad De Luca. The man who thinks it’s his God damn calling to screw each and every hot female in a twenty-mile radius? The man who chews and spits out poor little divorcing husbands like it’s a blood sport? The man who, in some ridiculous, dotted-line way, is both my and your boss?” Her voice rose with every sentence, until I was certain that every person in our wing could hear her shouts. I had never heard the woman yell, much less curse before.
“Ummm ... yes?” I was terrified of feeding this fire. The woman had morphed into a Doberman right before my eyes. I was trying to formulate a more intelligent answer when the kitchen door flew open, almost smacking Crazy Beverly in the back. I felt a momentary burst of relief at my rescue, until I saw the individual holding open the door. Sheila. Oh shit.
“Beverly! What in God’s name has gotten into you! We have clients in the lobby, for goodness sake!” Her cultured, dignified tone was as perturbed as I’d ever heard it, and she pierced Beverly with an appalled stare. I expected Beverly to deflate slightly, acknowledge her scorning—to apologize. But she stood firm and met Sheila’s stare head-on. She raised a finger, pointing to me. No. Please no. It’s Monday for Christ’s sake. Go easy on me.