"Really you'd do that for me?"
"Of course," she said, looking into his eyes for an extended couple of seconds before she quickly darted her gaze away again.
"Thanks," he said sincerely.
When Matt went back to his desk, he Googled Interface and Ray Anderson, and he started to learn so much more. "Wow," he said quietly to himself.
The next day, at his desk, Matt could have sworn he smelled her incredible perfume. It always made his pulse race. He'd just been thinking about her, so he figured he must be imagining that intoxicating scent, but he turned and there she was behind him, looking so cute and sweet. He smiled brightly upon seeing her and her beautiful smile spread across her face.
Looking slightly awkward, like she didn't know what to do with herself, she extended her arm, proffering a beaten up, dog eared paperback.
Matt accepted it with eyebrows raised and turned it to look at the cover.
Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn.
"Oh hey! Thanks, Rika," he said sincerely.
"I wanted to make sure I got it to you right away," she said. Was there something a little eager about the way she said that?
"Thank you," Matt said again, smiling, "but you didn't have to do that."
"I wanted to," she said softly. She looked at him for a couple of seconds and his pulse sped up a little. He liked that she wanted to do something for him, to share something that was so important to her.
"What's it about?" Matt asked.
"Well... it's a conversation... it's... well... umm... it's really hard to explain. I mean, if I try and explain it to you, it will sound ridiculous. Just start reading it, and you'll see. It's great. You'll be hooked."
"Hmmm. Ok," Matt replied.
Rika lingered awkwardly for a moment, like she wanted to say something else. When she started talking her words came out in a rush. "I hope you enjoy it. I have to get back to work now. But let me know when you finish it. I'd love to talk to you about it."
"This is great, Rika. I'll start it tonight," Matt said, smiling at her until she brought her gorgeous dark eyes to meet his for a moment. She smiled sheepishly, and looked away again. Her body language, her demeanor, everything about this interaction seemed awkward, not like the confident woman he'd become used to seeing.
"Well, I should get back to my desk," Rika said, haltingly, backing away from Matt's desk.
"Ok, thanks, Rika," he said, waving the book, watching her go.
Matt read the book in two days, staying up late the second night to get through it. First thing the next morning, he checked to see if Rika was online, and sent her an instant message.
"Hi Rika, I finished reading Ishmael." He typed.
Matt always typed in complete sentences when sending instant messages to Rika. With some of his friends and coworkers he was perfectly comfortable using IM shorthand, but he noticed Rika always typed full grammatically correct sentences, so he made a point of doing the same whenever conversing with her.
"Already?" She responded.
"Yeah, it's amazing. You're so right about it. It's completely changed the way I look at human beings and our place on the earth." Matt typed.
"I know. Isn't it incredible?" She asked.
"Yeah." Matt typed, quickly followed by. "Do you still want to talk about it? Are you free for lunch today?"
He pressed send before he had a chance to hesitate. They had spoken in the office on many occasions. They had walked together to the Starbucks a couple of times when they found themselves in the elevator at the same time, but they'd never had lunch together. Matt seemed to stop breathing for an extended moment, and just stared at the screen waiting for her to respond.
"Sure." The response came about 15 seconds later... but it seemed like far more.
"Great." Matt typed. Then added, "Where would you like to eat?"
"Do you like sushi?"
"Love it." Matt responded.
"Great, there's a little place around the corner I like to go to."
"Sounds good. Noon?"
"Can you get away a bit before noon? It gets busy and it's sometimes hard to get a table."
Matt smiled to himself. He had no objections whatsoever to moving up the time he'd get to see Rika.
"OK. 11:45. I'll ping you when I'm ready to go."
"Perfect." She responded, then Matt's messenger program indicated that she had closed the chat window.
Matt's anticipation of having Rika all to himself for an hour---even in a crowded restaurant---made it difficult to concentrate on his work for the rest of the morning.
Promptly at 11:45 a.m., Matt sent another instant message to Rika, and they agreed to meet on the ground level to head out to the restaurant.
Once they were seated and had ordered their food, Rika said excitedly, "so, I can't believe you finished the book in two days."
"Yeah, once I started I just couldn't put it down," Matt assured her. This wasn't entirely true. It was a good read, and he probably would have read it relatively quickly, but the fact that he was trying to impress her was what really made him read it in two evenings.
"I know, it's just amazing, isn't it?" Rika met his gaze and her eyes were sparkling.
"Yeah, and I see now what you mean about it being hard to explain. It is. A conversation with a gorilla?" Matt chuckled. Rika laughed too. He loved seeing her laugh.
"So what did you like about the book?" Rika asked.
"Wow. I mean... well, it's just so powerful," Matt said. "It's like I'm still reeling from the revelations."
"I know," Rika said, "you'll feel that way for a while."
"Yeah, it's like my whole world, no... my whole view of reality has been shaken up."
Rika nodded, delight and understanding shining in her eyes as she watched him speak.
"I think the biggest thing for me is the way he presented the history of humanity and the self-serving nature of our creation of this myth of superiority over all the other creatures on the earth... the way he presented it as this 'story' that we're living out. We are 'the Takers'. We do act like the world is a foe to be conquered."
Rika nodded slowly.
"This premise that the world belongs to man is so... I don't know... evil, you know?" Rika nodded, and Matt continued. "Because of the way we view the world, as ours, to be used, to be conquered, we are conquering it and... destroying it." Matt finished solemnly.
Rika looked into his eyes for an extended moment, her eyes full of understanding, sympathy and he thought he saw pride, like one would see in a teacher who feels pride when their student finally understands something really important. But he thought he saw something else in her eyes. Could it be affection? He couldn't quite place it, but he certainly knew it was the longest she'd ever made eye contact with him, and it filled him with such happiness and excitement.
Throughout the lunch they continued to discuss the book, and then Matt asked her more about her environmental activities inside and outside of work. She talked at great length and he listened with rapt interest.
When lunch was over, he felt a deep disappointment at having to part from her. He would have liked to have stayed and talked all day.
March 17, 2011
Matt was in a good mood. He had talked to Rika many times in the past few weeks. Their friendship seemed to be developing... he hoped to something deeper. He could have sworn he was seeing signs from her that she was developing feelings for him. He had seen a look in her eye. At least he thought he'd seen something there on those rare occasions when she'd made eye contact with him.
He checked the instant message program to see if she was online, and got up from his desk. With a spring in his step, Matt bounded down the stairs to Rika's floor, and walked purposefully toward her desk to give her an update on some things he'd been working on for the Green Team. Of course, he knew he could just send her a text or an email, but he always took the opportunity to go to her desk to see her beautiful face in person if he could.
On this day, he planned to ask her out for lunch again. They'd had such a great time and good conversation at the last one, he couldn't wait to get her alone again.
As he walked up to her desk, he heard her having a conversation with someone in her cubicle -- another woman. The voice sounded familiar but he couldn't quite place it.
"So, where is he taking you on Saturday?" the woman asked.
"I'm not sure but he told me to dress up. It's supposed to be a surprise," Rika replied excitedly.
"Ohhh, knowing him it will be some place really nice," the other woman said.
"I hope so," Rika replied.
Matt staggered back, feeling like he had been punched in the stomach.
She's dating someone? Fuck, fuck, fuck. I should have asked her out sooner. Fuck.
He sulked away without talking to her. He didn't send her a text or an email or contact her at all.
Despair descended upon him. He couldn't believe he'd been so stupid and squandered his opportunity.
April 7, 2011
Matt arrived at the meeting room as Rika was talking to Shereen, another South Asian woman, whose voice he then recognized as the one Rika was talking to on that awful day three weeks ago. He hadn't had any contact with Rika since then. None whatsoever. To be honest, he'd been avoiding her. He quietly slipped into a seat at the far end of the conference table. Rika's back was to him. Perhaps she didn't realize anyone else was in the room yet. She continued her conversation with Shereen.
"So what happened to what's-his-face?" Shereen was asking.
"Nalin?" Rika supplied his name with a disparaging tone, "Ugh. What a dud."
Matt's ears perked up. He started listening intently, but tried to pretend he was reading a page in his recycled notebook.
Rika continued, "I did the obligatory three dates with him to satisfy my mother. God why does she always have to do this to me? Anyway, that fiasco a few weeks ago was the last straw with that loser!"
Someone else entered the room, and Shereen and Rika turned to see who had entered. Rika noticed Matt sitting there, and for a moment he thought she looked hurt, but she pasted a falsely professional smile on her face.
"Matt," she called out, walking toward him. "Where have you been? I haven't talked to you in... well it seems like weeks."
"Yeah things have been a little crazy," he said, brightening. "But I think they're getting better now."
Thursday, April 21, 2011 -- The Earth Day Event
First thing that morning, Matt completed some more tasks in preparation for the event. He bounded down the stairs to Rika's floor to stop by her desk, give her an update, and ask her what else he could do to help. Of course, he knew he could email her or text her, but as usual, he wanted to see her. She always seemed so delighted to see him, although he still wasn't sure if that was because she wanted to see him or if she was simply pleased that he had completed a task.
As he walked up to her cubicle, that intoxicating scent assaulted his senses, causing his heart rate to accelerate. But then he heard her voice. She was on the phone and she sounded upset. He didn't want to be rude and hover, so he started walking away but when he heard the pain in her voice, he was stopped in his tracks. He felt anger rise in instantly him at whoever was causing her pain. He knew he shouldn't listen but he couldn't help himself. He could only hear what she was saying so he tried to piece together who she was talking to and what the other person was saying.
"...and fix me up with another dud who looks good on paper? No way," she cried angrily.
"No," she spat.
"...that is so unfair... " she said like a wounded child, her voice full of pain.
"I'm not going to be there!"
"No. I don't care who his parents are. I'm not doing this again." Rika's voice sounded angry, resolute.
She paused, took a deep breath.
When she resumed, he voice was lower and steely with determination. "Mother. Hear me. I'm not going to come to your little dinner party so you can try to fix me up with another one of ...Daddy's. Friends'. Sons." She punctuated each word with finality.
"Mother, I'm at work. I have to go now. Goodbye."
"Mother, I'm hanging up now."
She slammed down her phone and drew in a gasp that sounded closer to a cry.
Matt didn't know what to do. He'd heard something he shouldn't have heard. This should have been a private moment for her. But she was hurt. He'd heard the pain and anger in her voice. He thought it was probably really hard for her to stand up to her mother that way. Maybe she wanted comfort.
He paused for a second in indecision and then turned toward her desk, plastering on a friendly smile as he walked up to the opening of her cube wall.
"Hey, Rika," he called with mock cheeriness.
She turned and looked up at him with red puffy eyes. She gasped and her eyes widened in horror at seeing him, and she turned quickly back to her desk.
Matt was so concerned for her, he could think of nothing but comforting her. He rushed forward and knelt beside her chair, placing a hand on her shoulder, looking at her beautiful face. He wished there was something he could do to take her pain away.
"Rika, are you okay?" he asked with genuine concern.
She wouldn't meet his gaze. She looked at her desk and wiped at her eyes with her index fingers.
"It's just my mother," she said, a little too flippantly though there was a tinge of pain under her forced sarcasm. "She likes to interfere in my life."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
She started to shake her head, but then sighed deeply. Matt just waited, looking at her with concern.
"She and my dad keep fixing me up with these awful men who have resumes." The flippant tone was gone from her voice, replaced instead by pain and resentment. "I should be able to choose... " she paused, moving her gaze upward toward his eyes, "... who I want to date." She looked into his eyes pointedly as she finished the sentence and held his gaze.
Her deep dark eyes bored into his grey ones, searchingly. He saw something in her eyes. Vulnerability, at first. But as he gazed into her eyes, it transformed into affection and... then... desire. He was absolutely sure of it.
She wants me! Cue hallelujah chorus!
His heart rate sped up and excitement rushed through him. He tried not to jump for joy. He was supposed to be here to comfort her, after all. He returned her gaze, steadily. He let a little bit of what he felt for her show through his eyes—his admiration, his affection, his lust for her. Her eyes widened in surprise and realization. The look in her eyes turned lustful, hungry. The moment stretched for several heartbeats. She seemed to move imperceptibly closer to him
"Rika," he breathed. His face was so close to hers. Her lips were right there, so tantalizingly close. He knew she wanted him to kiss her. He could see it in her face, feel it in the atmosphere between them, sense it in the way she kept moving closer. But they were at work. He couldn't. Damnit. This moment was slipping away and he couldn't stop it.
Abruptly, Rika seemed to realize where she was and she pulled away from him and turned back to her desk. He stood quickly, startled by her sudden movement and change in demeanor. She put on a falsely cheerful business-like tone. "So what did you want to talk to me about, Matt"
"Rika," he said quietly. Her eyes darted up to his. He saw that affection and longing in her eyes for an electrifying flash, but she quickly averted her gaze again.
"Tharika, look at me," he urged. When she did, her eyes were so deep, so expressive. He could see emotions playing over her face. Her eyes betrayed her longing for him. And more: excitement, affection, attraction and fear. He held her gaze and smiled trying to reassure her, trying to show her how much he cared for her. Her mouth curved in a slight smile and a bit of the fear left her expression.
Matt quickly knelt down beside her, so his face was level with hers again. She gasped seeing him so close again. He spoke quickly in a hushed tone. "Meet me for a drink after work," he urged.
"Ok," she breathed.
"Blake's. Five o'clock. Can you get away at five?" Matt asked
"I can today," she replied, smiling. Her eyes were full of excitement, longing, promise.
He smiled broadly, his eyes twinkling. They looked at each other for several more long seconds, so much passing between their eyes, words were unnecessary. After a moment, Matt seemed to remember he had come to her desk for a reason.
"Oh, this is what I came to talk to you about," Matt said, handing her a piece of paper.
She looked at it, scanned it quickly, and looked up at him with an astonished smile, "All done?"
"Thank you," she smiled that delighted smile he loved to see. He knew he would do anything to please her, as long as she kept rewarding him with that breathtaking smile.
Throughout the Earth Day event they danced around each other. They both did things that needed to be done. They talked professionally in front of everyone else on the team and all the employees who came to the event. But every time their eyes met, there was that smoldering, burning, hunger that caused a rush of excitement to go through him. It seemed to get more intense as the day wore on. By the end of the event, he was fighting to keep his erection down and she wouldn't even look at him anymore. Her beautiful face seemed to be glowing and she seemed winded.
Reluctantly he went back to his desk. Five o'clock couldn't come soon enough. The afternoon dragged. He couldn't concentrate on work. He kept thinking of the look in her eyes, and what he hoped it meant. He couldn't control his mind all afternoon. Fantasies kept swirling in his head. He imagined finally seeing her beautiful body naked; he imagined kissing her lips and inhaling her intoxicating fragrance; he imagined all the things he wanted to do to her, making her moan and sigh and scream, losing himself in her.
He thought of how many times they'd talked and how few times she'd made eye contact. Was that why? She hadn't wanted him to see how she felt?
Finally, 4:50 p.m. arrived. He knew it would take a few minutes to get down the elevator and to the bar in the building next door. He checked the company instant message program directory. She was still online. He typed a quick message to her, "Hey. Logging off now. See you at Blake's." The window indicated she was typing before he'd even finished. Her response appeared almost instantly. "See you soon. I can't wait." He grinned broadly, typed a smiley, and shut down his computer.
Matt practically skipped to the elevator bay. He had a spring in his step. His heart was beating fast. His body was humming with excitement, anticipation, and a stirring in his pants he was trying desperately to control.
When he got to Blake's, he glanced around quickly and noted she wasn't there. It wasn't very busy yet. He sat in a booth that was slightly back in the corner but had a clear view to the front door. He ordered two glasses of pinot grigio and waited, staring at the door. The waitress brought the wine. He hardly noticed her. His attention was trained on the door. He sipped the wine absently. The door opened. A man entered and headed for the bar. Matt let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding, and took another sip of his wine. He glanced at his watch. 5:05 p.m. He wondered if she might have changed her mind.
The door opened again, bright sunlight outside a contrast to the dimly lit bar. The figure of a young woman was silhouetted in the glare. Even as a silhouette, he recognized her immediately. How could he not? He'd studied her form enough in the past seven months. His pulse raced.