Parallel Stories, the Third

As promised, here is the last and final Parallel Story. This one is meant to represent the multiverse as described in my earlier post here. Enjoy!

Story 3: Millimeters Away in an Unseen Direction

The radio began its regular blaring at 7 in the morning.  “It’s gonna be another hot one this morning, Ti-“ A hand reached over, fumbled a moment, found the button it was looking for, and hit it. Jeff didn’t want the alarm to wake up Laura. She was irritable when she woke up earlier than nine. And an irritable Laura meant the inevitable fight about something was just around the corner. So he did what he always did: accommodated her.

He tiptoed into the bathroom, where the night before he had neatly laid out his clothes for the day so he wouldn’t have to open the noisy closet door and wake Laura. He showered and dressed. He ate his cereal, careful not to clink the spoon against the bowl or set his glass of orange juice down loudly.

He left the house, locking the door behind him and sighed.

——

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

“Good morning, Jeff.  How are you?”

“Alright.”  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 and Laura had gotten married.  The ceremony itself had gone fine, but not even the happiness of the occasion could dull the tension that had been brewing between Laura and his family. There had been many hushed arguments between Jeff and Laura, between Jeff and his mom. There had been loud arguments between Laura and his mom, who now only spoke to each other when necessary.

And then, on top of that, Jeff had seen more and more mood swings in Laura. She would get wildly upset over minor issues. What the fuck is wrong with you and your family, she would shout. Your mother and sister have it out for us. They don’t want us together. And always, in the back of his mind, was the day she hit him. It hadn’t hurt and he’d been able to stop her after getting the one slap in. But her strength in her uncontrollable state had shocked him. He wondered how it would turn out the next time she tried to hit him.

And so each day, he looked forward to getting to the office, where problems were solvable and his work was appreciated. He spent longer and longer hours at the office to avoid going home.

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 Walt had never been happier in his life than when he 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 Mrs. 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 two newlyweds?”

“Laura wants to go furniture shopping. I don’t know, though. I’d rather wait; we’ve already spent so much money on redecorating the house.” And she just seems to think there’s an endless supply of money, even though she doesn’t work, he thought.

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.

“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 quickly looked away and hoped she didn’t think he was being creepy. He was married, after all. Right then, 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. He quickly looked at his empty plate.

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. Jeff tried to ignore her, but he noticed that she smiled at him as she walked past.

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

“Yeah, let’s go.”  And they did.

They went back to the office.  Jeff worked away the afternoon. He tried not think about going home.

A few minutes past three, Laura texted him and asked him to pick up some chicken on the way home from work. He almost texted back, “You’re not working, why don’t you run to the store?” But he didn’t, not wanting to deal with the shitstorm that would cause. So he texted, “Ok.”

He finished up his work day and started packing up for the evening. 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. He turned back to the chicken and hoped she wouldn’t notice him.

“Um, hello.”

Damn, he thought. She saw me.

He turned and looked at her. “Oh!  It’s you!  From lunch!” Then he smiled, trying not to smile too much.

“Yeah, it’s me,” Brunette said and smiled. Her smile made Jeff feel all melty inside.

“Yeah, what a crazy coincidence,” he said.

They stared at a each other moment longer. Jeff said, “Well, I should get back home.” He turned and walked away without another word.

Five minutes later, he was parked in the garage with the car off. He didn’t want to open the door. He didn’t know whether this would be a good night or a bad night. They’d been bad more and more frequently.

He thought about Brunette. He wondered if she were single. What would he have said to her if he hadn’t been married? Would she have even been interested?

Finally, he got out of the car, walked to the door and turned the handle to face another night with his wife. And right then, he remembered that he forgot the chicken.

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