Word count, start of day -- 32,800
"Do you work with Brian much?" I asked. Kathy was diligently checking items off her list. She had not found a mistake yet. But I thought I may as well take this chance to learn a little about Brian.
"What?" she seemed surprised.
I repeated the question for her.
"A couple of times," she answered, still focused on her work. She seemed willing and able to chat and count at the same time. "We did a car dealership earlier in the year, and we worked together at a college over the summer."
"He seems pretty nice. Is he easy to work with?"
"He's great. I've seen him deal with clients in his easy-going way, and he is the same way in the office."
"What you see is what you get?" I prompted.
"Seems that way."
I tried to make this conversation seem normal and not too obvious. I moved on to talking a bout her and her career. I commented on her dress, because it looked real good. It was a nice party dress, short, backless, and made of a real pretty silk blend. She gushed about her boyfriend and their plans for the evening.
After what I thought was an appropriate amount of time, I excused myself and headed back to find Brian.
Brian was also working hard. He had an intensity about his job, a seriousness, a focus that was very attractive. It was an odd balance, because he was casual and sort of laid-back in his general attitude. But at the same time, he had this intense and serious streak when he was doing something important. I saw this when we were talking about serious stuff. But even when he was serious, he had this undercurrent of lightness and humor. It was an unusual combination. It was an attractive combination.
"Any problems yet?" I asked upon entering the room.
He shook his head. "Not a one. They must hire excellent people around this place," he said with a shy smile.
I smiled back at the compliment. "Well, I did not actually count in this room, so I can't take all the credit."
He chuckled, then turned serious. "Has Kathy found any problems?"
"Not that she told me about."
"What did you to talk about?"
I sensed his nervousness and decided to jump into it. "You, mostly," I exaggerated.
"Only good stuff, right?" he actually seemed a little nervous about this. I wondered for a second if there was something really there.
"Only good stuff," I answered lightly. It was true. "She seems nice, Kathy does. She'll be back out to the audit in February?"
"I'm planning on it, as long as we stick to our calendar. If she is working on something the week before and it goes over schedule, then maybe I'll have to bring someone else out. But I like Kathy. She's good."
"Attractive," I commented.
"She's all right," he answered. He said this while keeping his attention securely on the items he was counting.
"I'm not a jealous type, if that's what you think."
He looked up, confused. "What?"
"I won't be jealous if you say she's pretty." It was true. I admired good-looking people of all types, ages, and sexes.
Brian halfway shrugged. "She's okay," he said, pausing for a second. "She has nice hair."
"And a beautiful dress tonight."
He put his clipboard down. Maybe I was frustrating him with these questions. I was not trying to lead him into saying anything particular, but maybe he felt trapped. "I don't particularly like that dress," he said plainly, "at least not on her."
"Really?" This was interesting. "What do you mean?"
He sighed, then smiled. "She's not walking down the hall now, is she?"
I checked. She was not coming.
Brian looked at me. "There are very few outfits that look good on any woman, and very few women that look good in any outfit. For most clothes and most ladies, let's just say that not everything is meant to be worn by everyone."
I nodded, but stayed quiet. I didn't want to cut him off, if he had more to add. This was good insight. Most men ran from conversations about women's fashion.
He continued. "It's like a comedian I heard once. His punch line was that it should be against the law to make thongs bigger than a size seven."
I laughed out loud at this remark. My thongs were a size five, so I was safe.
"And belly shirts," he added, "and low-rider jeans. And navel piercings. The point of all of these things is to draw attention to the belly, and I'm sorry but some women who wear these things should not be drawing attention to that part of their body."
"It makes them feel pretty," I said, defending my sisters.
Brian shook his head. "But it does not make them look pretty. It's like this. An average woman is walking down the street with her pretty friend. The pretty friend is in a belly shirt and she draws a lot of male attention. The average woman figures it's because of the shirt, and thinks all she needs is one and now she'll get the attention.
He stopped, assuming I got the point of this little story. "It was not the shirt that got the attention, it was the girl."
"Of course." He was back at his job, but said, "Not that it's a bad thing, all in all. It's worth seeing four women wearing clothes like that who shouldn't to see one that's wearing those clothes who should. It's all a balance. See, women think that an attractive woman in an attractive outfit always looks attractive, but it's like pickles and ice cream. Separately, they're fine. But together, they're not." I eyed him suspiciously. "If a woman tries to dress above herself, it can really backfire."
I frowned. "This is crazy. Do all men think like this?"
"I'm exaggerating a little," he admitted, "and I'm not as bad as most guys, but it is generally the way we see things."
Maybe it was a generational gap. Dennis was about ten years older than Brian, and I was certain he did not think like this. At least he had told me before that he did. Brian looked pat me up the hallway and cocked his head. I looked. "She's not coming yet."
"Okay, take Kathy. She's young, she looks fine, she's probably a seven and in the right clothes might be an eight, okay." I nodded, wondering where this was going. "But you have to be a nine to wear that dress she has on. So when a seven puts on a nine dress, she ends up a six."
"I never got past calculus, Brian, so that math part confused me a little," I joked.
He tapped his temple with a forefinger. "It's man calculus, Annie. Man calculus."
He finished his counts, and then we headed towards Kathy, who met us in the hallway. "Good timing," she joked. We all tromped off towards the food service area.
They knocked out the boxed goods and headed towards the refrigerated areas. "You did so well with the frozen foods last year, Kathy," Brian started, "It just seems a natural that you would--"
"Do you think I'm dressed for it?" She asked.
"She has a point, Brian. Just look at those legs."
Kathy hiked up her skirt a few more inches and slapped her hoseless legs, just above the knee.
"I'm not supposed to treat workers different, that would be sex discrimination," he tried, but I think he knew he was losing the battle.
"I probably shouldn't get too cold in this outfit, anyway," she said, looking down. Was she talking about her nipples? She wasn't wearing a bra, so again she had a good point. Brian appeared to not get it. His innocence was kind of cute. He had plenty of theories about women's clothes, but had not a full consideration of the woman's body. She was giving him a helpless little girl look. God, she was almost batting her eyes at him.
Brian cracked. "Okay, I'll do it this year." He wagged a finger at Kathy like a father and told her in a silly voice, "Now, young lady, you better come dressed more appropriately next year."
She glanced my way. "It's New Years' Eve, Brian. I am dressed appropriately." She checked her watched and announced, "And I'm about to be late."
He threw up his arms in a mimic of disgust. "Go, go, go. I'll handle it from here."
Kathy was out of there in a flash. For a man who did not think she looked so good in that dress, Brian spent a few extra seconds lingering his eyes on her as she strode away. I decided to not comment. "Want some coffee or hot chocolate? For when you get out of the deep freeze."
"You serious?" I told him I was. "Hot chocolate would be great."
He pulled on his suit and gloves and did his work. It took him two trips into the cold to finish up. I had his cup of Swiss Miss ready when he got out and shed the heavy clothes.
"How long are you going to stay?" I asked.
He clearly did not have an answer, so I gave him one. "I would like to get home before the drunks hit the road at twelve, so I thought if we could talk for a bit it would be nice. Do you have to be at home at any time?" In other words, did your wife give you a curfew?
I shook my head. Dennis and I would blow our noisemakers with Erin whenever she woke up.
The two of us headed up the hallway and found a few nice chairs to sit in. These were spread throughout the facility for residents who could not make it from one place to another in a single trip. Another sign of the realities of growing old. "How are things at home?" I asked.
"Okay," he answered. "Except that Gwen may lose her license."
"From the accident?"
"She tested out at point-one-one."
The legal limit in the state was oh-nine, maybe even oh-eight. "Restricted privileges?"
"If the judge is in a good mood." He shook his head. This obviously upset him. "She won't drink with her parents around, but they go back next week some time."
"And you think she'll start again."
"God, I hope not. This time she really paid. Maybe it'll wake her up, but I don't hold out a lot of hope." He shook his head again. "You guys?"
I told him about selling and moving out of the house and finding a decent apartment, and that I was sleeping on a futon in the living room. "It was kind of tough on Dennis, because we put the futon out there, and it was pretty obvious it's where I was sleeping. So all these big burly manly movers pretty much knew that he wasn't getting any."
Brian laughed, then quickly turned serious. "That's rough."
"But Erin has not commented yet, so we have not had to have that conversation yet."
"I've played that scenario in my mind myself," he said, "And I can't figure out how to do it. I just don't know how Nat would react."
"Is it that serious between you two?" I tried not too sound hopeful, because that was just too cold.
"The drinking is a big problem, but maybe it's a sign that she's not happy at all. We argue, she drinks. We've become really different people."
"How long have you two been married?"
"Nine years. The first few were good."
That beat me and Dennis. Our first few weeks were good, then it started slipping away. "I would like to see you somehow, somewhere, some way. I don't know how or anything."
Brian nodded. "I know, I do, too, but I don't know how to work it. I don't know what, I don't know anything." He looked truly confused. I had thought this out more than he had. Maybe my marriage had crumbled sooner than his? Who knew?
My eyes caught the clock on the far wall. I gestured to it. Eleven. "Time to go."
He stood and then pulled me up, almost but not quite into a hug. We were separated by maybe an inch. My heart was pounding. I wanted him to kiss me, but I doubted that we would. "Well, it's a new year somewhere in the Atlantic," he said with a chuckle, then turned away ever so slightly.
I tugged his arm just a bit a he stilled. "Happy New Year," I said softly, and put my left hand on the back of his neck. I played with his hair for a second and he smiled. In one move, I stood up on my toes and pulled his head down to me. I kissed him firmly on the mouth, confidently. It lasted maybe two seconds, maybe three. I wasn't counting. I opened my eyes and found his wide. I brushed his cheek with my hand. "Happy New Year," I repeated, then turned and left.