Word count, start of day -- 21,700
I was starting to get used to this conference room. The reports and binders were waiting for me in a nice stack. It was all very neat and organized. Pushed down toward the far end of the table, so I could sit against the back wall and do my work. This was the pre-audit again, and Carrie Conroy's team knew what the drill was. It made me wonder how different the prior auditors were. There must have been some differences, as many of my requests last year seemed to receive strange looks. But that was last year, and maybe the staff had been trained to know what I needed. It certainly seemed so. Here was an entire stack of items, the whole week's worth, here in one place. I spent the morning compiling a list of invoices to track down and questions to ask. I found significant items, questionable fixed asset purchases, and legal expenses to review.
I made my rounds, stopping at Conroy's office first. "Well, here's another familiar face," she said with a smile. "Did you find everything you needed?"
"Absolutely," I said, meaning it.
"That is good to hear," Carrie said. "That was all Annie's doing." I nodded. "What do you think of her?" she asked.
I coughed. The question took my by surprise. What was I supposed to say? That I think she is cute? That I think she is smart? "I think she is very good," I said. "She seems to be a real hard worker."
"That's good to hear from an outsider, from an objective source."
Objective? Okay, if that is what she thinks. "What do you have planned?" I wanted to know what was in store for Annie. Maybe I could give her a head's up."
She leaned back a little in her chair. "TO be honest, I have some hopes of grooming her for greater responsibilities."
I nodded. That was interesting. "She can handle them. Maybe not now, but not too far from now. What all do you have in mind for her to do?" Conroy explained her notion of having Annie attend all of my seminars at the Home, which was fine with me.
The controller stood and walked behind me to close the door to the outer office. "And if this plan for a merger of acquisition goes through, I see our accounting department growing, taking on greater functions. And I think Annie could thrive in a situation like that..
The plans made sense. "If this ends up being a corporate accounting office, you'll need another manager or two." This was a terrific opportunity for Annie if it ended up happening. I tried to contain my enthusiasm for her prospects.
"You think she's that good?"
She replied, "I don't know what time frame we are looking at, and what accounting staff are at these other facilities, of course." She said this just because she knew she should.
"There will be some redundancies and some consolidating, probably here at Canterbury, too," I said with a shrug. "You never know. It could all work out like you envision."
She stood and opened the door back up. "Thanks for your input, Brian. This is a much more pleasant experience, working with Phares and Barnes."
"Really?" I laughed at this comment. There was obviously a story here, but I did not know Carrie well enough to dig it out. I wondered if Annie had heard any of the horror stories from those days.
I stopped by her office to dig through invoices. She was not there. A little, disappointed, I sat on the floor without ceremony and worked through the A-D drawer. Invoices for computer equipment and peripherals, furniture, legal fees, and insurance contracts. Everything seemed to be in order.
I think my presence on her floor surprised Annie. When she came back to her office, a few minutes later to find me, she squeaked.
She actually squeaked, a grown woman. My back was turned away, so I did not see if she jumped in surprise. It would not have surprised me to learn that she had.
"Brian!" She said, scampering over to see me. Reaching an arm down, she actually pulled me up and into a full embrace. It was completely unexpected and I did not know how to respond. I ended up not responding at all, despite the fact that I felt her round breast pressing with force into my chest. It was unexpected. Not unpleasant by any means, just unexpected.
She released the hug and held me at arm's length, appraising. "You look great," she gushed.
"Well," I responded, "you look, uh, great, you know, good, you look real good, Annie." She has probably been flustering men for
years. This was nothing new to her, I was sure of that.
"Thanks. It is good to see you."
"Yeah, you, too." It was very good to see her, actually. "Thanks for the stuff in the conference room, by the way."
"It was helpful?"
"That's good. Glad to help."
"Yes, thank you." She probably noticed at this point how close we still standing, for she moved slowly back towards her desk. "Lunch?" she asked.
"Today?" I asked, just to clarify.
"Well, I just thought, you know," she stammered a little for a change, "if you wanted to."
"Fine. Here at the Center?"
She nodded. "Well, I said, "I'll be here right on the floor, whenever you are ready." I turned back towards the file cabinet, found the floor again and tried to quiet the pound in my chest.
I just wanted to crawl up in a ball and die. I was so embarrassed. Why had I hugged him? It was like I had done it before I even had thought about it. Sure, I like him, missed him, we were friends, but why had I hugged him?
If I could have found any excuse to leave my office I would have. But my mind was a complete blank. I fumbled through the next little while of work, my concentration flitting back and forth between Canterbury's account and Brian. He just sat there on the floor working. He had changed since I had met him. I could not put my finger on him. On it. I could not put my finger on it.
Had Brian lost weight? No, he was still a few pounds over his ideal weight. That was no big deal to me, I never judged people based on how they looked. He turned to one side. That was it. His hair was a little different, like maybe he actually got it styled and not just cut. Interesting change. Not a dramatic change or anything, but interesting.
We went to lunch that day, and each of the next too, as well. In the Canterbury cafeteria. That Wednesday, our third lunch in a row, I pointed to a group of women, all over seventy-five. They were sitting in their usual seats and waved to us as we passed, as usual. I leaned in to Brian and said, "I bet they think we are a couple." He noticeably reddened, and did not laugh. Heck, I thought it was funny. Funny or not, it was probably not the most appropriate thing to say. Friends or not, we were working together.
He begged off lunch Thursday. He said he had to run into the office or something. This disappointed me, and the disappointment I felt surprised me. I guess it should not have been surprising, but even so I was disappointed.
It was hard, working so closely with him. And working so close to him. I had thoughts about what I wanted to say to him, or could say to him, or should say to him. A million scenarios played across in my mind. None of these would ever happen, none of them could ever happen. I didn't know quite what to do. It was all so confusing to me.
He stopped by Friday and checked if I wanted to go to lunch. "Sure," I said.
"Did you bring something to eat today, by chance?"
"Matter of fact, I have a sandwich."
He nodded. "I brought lunch, too. I thought maybe we could sit out on the back courtyard, enjoy the sun."
It was pushing seventy today. Indian Summer. Or whatever we had to call it nowadays. "That sounds like a good idea, Brian."
"Great," he said, "I'll wander over some time after twelve."
"Okay," I answered with a wink. When he left, I dropped my head into my hands. Oh my God, why did I wink at him?
I sleepwalked through the rest of the morning. It was the most nervous I had been in years. It was just lunch, Annie. Don't be a moron, it is just lunch. Don't do anything stupid, don't say anything stupid.
It turned out to be a beautiful day for lunch. We sat on a metal bench overlooking a large area of green. Grass and bushed and shrub and trees were all around us. It was nice being out there. It was nice being out there with Brian.
"That was fun, Annie," he said.
"I'm glad we did this. It was good to see you this week." I took a breath. "When are you going to be coming back?"
"New Years Eve, for inventory again." He laughed at hits. "Unless I can pawn it off on someone else."
I reached out and patted her leg. I couldn't help myself. "I hope you come." I winced. What was I doing? My emotions were out of control, and they were taking my mouth with them.
He chuckled. "Well, it was not much fun last year spending the thirty-first here. So if I gat Kathy West or someone else, we'll still be friends, right?" He turned my way with a smile.
I breathed in deep and took one of his hands in mine. "Brian," I said quietly. I made and held eye contact. I was trying to communicate a sense of importance to what I had to say. I went on, reckless and out of control.
"I have feelings for you."