Parallel Stories, the First

A few years ago, I started attempting to write stories. I came up with a few ideas, but most were abandoned along the way. One story, really a set of three stories, I wrote almost to completion, but just didn’t get around to finishing until recently.

This particular set of stories was an attempt to illustrate the idea of parallel universes and how similar, while still being different, they can be. Also, as may be obvious, I had gone through a particularly bad breakup prior to writing these stories. I think that writing these was one of the many ways that I processed what happened and began to move on.

Like I said, there are three stories and I will post them over the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy.

Story One: Right Here and Now

The radio began its regular blaring at 7 in the morning. “It’s gonna be another hot one this morning, Tina. The high will be about 95 with 90 percent humidity.”

A hand reached over, fumbled a moment, found the button it was looking for, and hit it.

Nine minutes later, the radio blared again. The hand’s owner sighed, rolled over and sat up on the edge of the bed. He ran his hand over his face and up through his disheveled hair. After turning the alarm off, he sighed, stood up and went to the bathroom. Moments later, the toilet flushed and the shower turned on.

He emerged from his bedroom again, this time with his hair freshly wet and combed, wearing a suit and tie. After a quick breakfast of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, he grabbed his keys, walked outside, locked the back door and got in his Ford Focus. The drive to work was a quick one, as it always was.

He walked into the office, holding his briefcase. “Good morning, Stacy,” he said to the receptionist as he walked in.

“Good morning, Jeff. How are you?”

“Fine. Just another day.” He continued on to his office, where the latest round of contracts, deeds, client letters, trusts and other documents awaited his attention.

Jeff’s days had been blending together a lot over the past few months. Ever since he’d broken up with Laura. Each day was pretty much the same: wake up, work, lunch, work, dinner, television or reading, bed. Wash, rinse and repeat. He knew he couldn’t go on like this forever, but he was actually enjoying the numbness for a while after the emotional horror that had been his last few months with his now ex-fiancee. So, he kept going on in this in-between time, while he subconsciously healed.

As he logged into his computer, his friend and coworker Walter poked his head around the door. “Jeff, how ya doin’?”

“I’m good. How are you, Walt?”

“I’m alright, just exhausted. The baby just did not want to sleep last night. At about 1:30 in the morning, he started crying, so I went to get him. I calmed him down, but as soon as I tried to leave his room, he started up again. That happened two more times before I gave up and took him in the living room to watch TV for a while. I just wanted to shout at him, ‘Why are you doing this to me?!'” Walt’s story sounded bad, but Jeff knew that he’d never been happier in his life than when Walt was taking care of his son. Indeed, Walt had a smile the whole time he was telling this “woeful” story.

“That sounds awful, man,” Jeff said with a chuckle. “I’m kinda glad I don’t have to worry about that for a while.”

“Well, what can you do?”

Jeff heard a shout for Walt ring out across the office and Walt left to go see who was calling for him. Jeff turned back to his computer and continued with his morning routine.

Lunch time always seemed to sneak up on Jeff at the beginning of the week. The mornings would move so quickly, especially on Monday, that he would barely glance up from his work before he realized that the day was already half over.

He and Walter went to one of their mainstay restaurants for lunch, a coney island restaurant a few minutes away from the office.

“What are you and the missus up to this weekend?” Jeff asked.

“Birthday parties. Julie’s mom’s birthday is Saturday and then we’re celebrating my nephew’s birthday on Sunday at my brother’s. How about you?”

“Nothing yet. I’ll probably go get dinner with my parents one night and see if Steve is up to anything this weekend.” Steve was a good friend of Jeff’s from Boy Scouts whom he hung out with when he could. “But who knows.”

They both stopped as the waitress came to take their drink orders. Jeff and Walt were regulars, so they knew what they wanted to eat and ordered their lunches as well.

As the waitress left, Walt asked, “Did you see 30 Rock last night?”

“No, I DVR’ed it, though. I’ll watch it tonight. It’s so hard to watch everything on Thursday nights. There’s way too much TV.”

“It was a good one. You’ll like it.”

The door to the restaurant opened and Jeff looked up at who entered out of reflex. Two women in business suits walked in. A taller one and a shorter one. The shorter one had an adorable face with a short bob haircut for her brunette hair. She captivated Jeff. The hostess sat the newcomers down a few tables away from Jeff and Walt. Jeff silently cheered to himself that the taller blonde one sat with her back to Jeff and that he could see the brunette.

Walt stuck his head into Jeff’s view of the brunette with one eyebrow raised. Then Walt turned around and saw who Jeff was looking at. Walt turned back with a smile on his face. “Ah, I see now. I’m not pretty enough for you?”

“What can I say, I like what I see,” Jeff responded.

“I don’t blame you. Have you even been on a date since Laura?”

“No.”

“Well, maybe it’s time. I’m gonna go to the bathroom, be right back.” Walt stood up and walked toward the back of the restaurant.

The movement must have caught Brunette’s attention, because when Jeff looked back her way, she was looking right at him. He smiled and she smiled right back at him. And right at that moment, the waitress started setting their food down on the table. “Thank you,” Jeff said.

Walt got back as the waitress was setting the plates down. After she moved away, he sat back down and they both started eating.

“So, Chippewa, huh?” Walt asked.

“What?”

“We might be getting the City of Chippewa. You hadn’t heard?”

“No. That’s awesome. When did that happen?”

“A couple days ago. Stu called me to see if we’d be interested and I talked with him and a couple other people this morning.”

“How’d that go?”

“I think it went well. We’ll see what they want to do. They asked me about a small issue to sort of feel me out and I gave them my recommendation right on the spot. And you know we are definitely the cheapest out there, so at least we’ve got that going for us.”

“How is Chippewa doing?”

“Pretty decent. Looks like their budget is in good shape. Their previous attorneys seemed to just screw one thing up after another, though. So we might have a few messes to clean up there.”

“That’s great, man. I guess we’ll see if they hire us.” Jeff forked the last bite of his food and sat back against his seat. He looked over to Brunette’s table again and saw he eating her salad. She glanced back at him and smiled again. He smiled back.

In the wake of their lunch, Walt and Jeff talked a bit more about work. The waitress brought their check, which Walt picked up. “I got this one, you get the next time.” The waitress took the check and Walt’s credit card.

As they waited for the receipt, Brunette stood up from her table and walked toward the back of the restaurant. She favored Jeff with a big smile as she walked by. Jeff smiled back.

The waitress brought the receipt for Walt to sign. After he signed, he said, “Well, you ready?”

Jeff knew he should say No, I’m not. Give me a second to get this girl’s number. But he didn’t. Instead, he said, “Yeah, let’s go.” And they did.

They went back to the office. Jeff worked away the afternoon. Every time he took a quick five minute break, he would think of Brunette and silently curse himself for being a fucking idiot. It’s not that big a deal to ask, Jeff, he thought. Introduce yourself, say you were wondering if she’d like to get coffee sometime and ask for her number. All you gotta do is ask. But he hadn’t. Meeting women had never been Jeff’s strong suit, but he at least had the presence of mind to know that the only thing really holding him back was himself.

He finished up his work day and started packing up for the evening. Oh, crap, I haven’t got anything to eat. I should stop at the store on the way home. Maybe I’ll grab some chicken or something. Jeff grabbed his bag, said goodbye to everyone who was still at the office and walked out the door.

Jeff walked into the Kroger near his house. It was full of the after-work crowd who, like him, had to pick something up for dinner. Jeff walked through produce to the meat department to grab some chicken. As he walked up to the cooler, a short woman did the same thing. He looked at her to apologize for getting in her way and stopped. It was Brunette from lunch.

He stared at her for a moment. She had barely noticed him, she was focused on the spread of packaged chicken before them. If he thought about what he was going to say, he probably would have frozen up and end up either saying something really stupid or just walked away. Instead, he didn’t even think about what he was going to say. He just said, “Um, hello.”

She turned and looked at him and her eyes widened in surprise. “Oh! It’s you! From lunch!”

“Yeah, it’s me,” Jeff said and laughed. “Fancy running into you here.”

“Yeah, what a crazy coincidence,” she said and smiled. Her smile made Jeff feel all melty inside.

He stuck his hand out. “I’m Jeff.”

She shook his offered hand. “Megan. Nice to meet you.”

“You work around here?”

“Yeah, I’m an accountant at Fern & Denby. Do you work around here?”

“Yup. I’m a lawyer at a small firm nearby.”

“What firm?”

“Freiman & Samuelson. You probably haven’t heard of us.”

“And you’re right, I haven’t,” she laughed.

Jeff hesitated for a moment and then finally asked the question he was dying to ask, but almost to afraid to ask. “Listen, I was wondering: would you like to get coffee sometime?”

“Yes, I’d love to. I’m free this weekend.”

“Me, too. Can I get your number so we can figure something out?”

“Yeah, definitely.” She recited her digits and Jeff programmed them into his phone. “Well, I have to get going, I’m meeting my mom so I can cook her dinner.”

“Oh, for sure. I’ll call you.”

“I look forward to it.” She smiled.

Jeff turned and walked away, through the produce section, out the door and to his car. He was on such a high that he didn’t realize that he hadn’t bought anything at the store until he was in his house and discovered that he still had no food.

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