Over the course of a month, I’m posting a short novella titled We Almost Had It which traces the friendships and romances of a group of thirty-something social media managers in Seattle as they try to figure out what a fulfilling life looks like in the digital age. The story was inspired by Shopping Is a Feeling, an album released by former Gastbys American Dream guitarist Bobby Darling under the moniker What What What. Click here to go back to the fifth chapter, “Unexpectedly Average”, or here to start the story over at the beginning.
Friday morning broke cold and clear. Without preamble Alex found himself back at his desk, plugging away at his keyboard. Randy sat across from him, each of them locked into their monitors with unusual zeal. Across the hall, Brad’s office was empty.
At noon, as Friday tradition dictated, Alex and Randy went across the street to Chipotle. At a corner table in the crowded eatery they ate their burritos and debated whether or not they’d get a new boss or if maybe the entire department—or company?—would fold.
“Maybe it’ll be a beautiful woman,” said Randy. “I wouldn’t complain about that.”
“You absolutely would complain. The second she asked you to come up with an editorial calendar you’d declare her a first-rate idiot. And probably a fascist.”
Randy lowered his burrito, his face drawn and concerned. “Hey,” he said. Then a broad smile broke out across his face. “That is exactly how it would go down.”
“Like the back of my hand,” Alex said, laughing.
“But maybe all that discord would only serve to add spice to our burgeoning sexual tension and-”
“Alright, alright. Enough.”
Randy laughed and bit back into his burrito. “Just sayin’,” he said through a mouthful of rice and guacamole. For a while they ate in silence and Alex’s mind, as it often did, strayed to Kelli. He considered their meeting last night. She had seemed so happy to see him. Could that mean…no. She was married, for God’s sake. How much clearer of a signal did he need? Then again, she had moved back to Seattle and managed to find Alex almost immediately.
“So is that blank stare a yes?” asked Randy.
“I asked if you we were still going out tonight. Last night, after you had your middle school moment and bailed because a girl walked into the room, Paul said he wanted to join us. You in?”
“Oh, I don’t know, I mean-”
“Jesus Christ, Alex. Come on. You don’t have any other plans and we both know it.”
“Maybe I want to stay in,” said Alex. He took a crunchy bite out of a tortilla chip.
“Do you want to stay in?” Randy asked.
“I don’t know.”
“You really are the worst. You know that, right?”
“Yeah, I know,” said Alex.
They placed their empty trays above a trash can and then ran back across the street and up the stairs. Only a few more hours and they’d be free for the weekend. They were so close.
“There you two are.” A man that neither Alex nor Randy had ever seen approached them as they returned to their desks. “You’re late,” he said.
“Late for what?” Randy asked.
Randy looked at his watch. It was only a little more than an hour since he and Alex had left for lunch. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Your new boss. And unlike Brandon or Brett or whatever the fuck his name was, I’m not an idiot. I get things done—my team gets things done. Or they don’t work for me anymore. We’re trying to make money, not have fun. We clear?”
Alex and Randy exchange a sideways glance. Who the hell was this guy with his crisp collar, perfectly shined shoes and fastidiously ironed shirt?
“I expect to see your editorial calendars within the hour. And make them worth my time because I’m not entirely sure that we need two social media specialists.”
Without waiting for a reply or even introducing himself, he turned and walked into Brad’s old office. When he sat down at his desk and saw that Alex and Randy were still standing in the hallway, he leaned towards his door—but did not get up—and shouted, “You’ve probably wasted enough company time already. I’d get to work if I were you.”
Laura, Matt and everyone else in the area hid their heads as Alex and Randy sat down at their desks. Travis—ever the do-nothing busybody—was sneaking surreptitious glances at them from his office. The sound of deliberately clicking keys filled the air as Alex and Randy pounded away at their keyboards, trying to at least seem busy.
“Hey, Randy,” said Alex.
“You can count me in for that drink tonight.”
“I thought that might be the case.”
“That was fucking incredible,” said Rachel, placing her fork and knife onto an empty plate.
“Thanks. I’ve been working on my cooking,” Kelli replied. The two friends sat in the house’s ornate dining room beneath a sparkling chandelier. A third place was set at the table but it was, for the moment, unoccupied.
“I remember when you could barely make a packet of ramen without burning the microwave,” said Rachel.
“I remember when you used to eat your cereal out of a coffee mug because you didn’t want to wash a bowl.”
“Don’t judge me.”
“You still do that, don’t you?”
“I said don’t judge me.”
Their laughter was interrupted by the sound of the backdoor opening. Chad’s voice carried through the kitchen and into the dining room. “No, I don’t know why he posted it. Of course not. Yes, well, if that was his idea then it was a shitty one, wasn’t it? Fine. Yes, fine. No, you’ll take care of it. By Monday. Yes. Alright? Good.”
Rachel rolled her eyes at the conversation but Kelli either didn’t see her friend’s response or else was content to ignore it. The sound of utensils clinking against pots and pans could be heard from the kitchen and then Chad emerged into the dining room carrying a loaded plate. He sat at the empty place setting and began shoveling food into his mouth with his left hand while his right skimmed and scrolled across the surface of his phone. No one spoke.
“Do you think you’ll be ready to go in about an hour?” Kelli asked, facing Chad. There was no response. Rachel wore an angry grimace. Chad continued to eat and slide his fingers across his phone.
“Chad?” said Kelli.
“What?” A small piece of broccoli clung to his lip.
“Do you think you’ll be ready to go in about an hour?”
Rachel sighed loudly and stood up, taking her empty plate and wine glass into the kitchen.
“To the bar, remember? We’re meeting up with some of my old friends.” He watched her blankly as he slowly raised another forkful of food into his mouth. She continued to stare at him until he laid his fork on the table.
“I’ve got a lot of work to do, babe, and you probably want to catch up with all of your friends without me getting in the way.”
“You said you would come,” she said. Her voice was dark and somber, reaching down into other broken promises.
“Did I? I don’t remember-”
“You said you would come.”
“Look, I’ve got a lot of work to do and I don’t know any of your friends so-”
“You don’t know any of my friends because you’ve been refusing to meet them since we started dating. Are you coming or not?”
He picked up his phone and held it before him like a sword. “I’ve got some work to do. Maybe later.” He turned his back on Kelli and left through the far side of room, disappearing around a corner. Kelli heard his footsteps going up the stairs to an office that was little more than a playroom with a 70” LED TV.
Kelli looked at his half-eaten plate and wondered how she had ended up here. Their relationship hadn’t been fulfilling in a long time, but it had at least worked in its own weird way when they had been in California. But it was Kelli who had pushed Chad to apply for the job in Seattle, had angled for a return to her hometown, and in her short time back in Washington, Kelli began to realize that, during her entire time in California, she had felt like a guest. They had lived in Chad’s home and she had absorbed herself into his life. There had been little of theirs and even less of hers. Everything had been his. Now she was back to her roots, back to the place where she had been strong once, and somehow she knew that she wouldn’t forget that power, that agency, again.
There was the sound of a dish breaking in the kitchen and Rachel said, “Oh fuck.”
Kelli walked calmly into the kitchen. “Ready?” she asked Rachel, who didn’t even look down at the porcelain lying in splinters at her feet.
Click here for the seventh chapter of We Almost Had It, “Lost in Space.”