All I had to do was make it three more hours. My boss stands in front of us chanting "blah, blah, blah" at me and about twenty other co-workers, pointing a metal rod at some graph that makes absolutely no sense to me right now. This will be the third day I've had no sleep. I'm dizzy, starving, bored and beginning to hallucinate. The white walls begin to warp and twist into humanesque faces. My boss' height begins altering slightly. The boardroom seats start becoming carnivorous, noshing slowly on my butt cheeks. I giggle aloud for no reason, and it takes me a few moments to realize that my boss has ceased talking and now everyone is looking at me.
"Mr. Yan, take a few minutes and get some coffee from the front desk, hum?" My boss states in a near-monotone voice, folding the rod up and placing it down on the large oak conference table.
"Uh? Oh, sorry, Mr. Willard, I'm afraid I'm rather ill today." I wanted him to tell me to go home early, but with my boss, that was like asking the U.S. Government to give Saddam Hussein a tactical nuke for his birthday.
"Hum. We'll take a five-minute smoke break, alright?" Mr. Willard escorts the dozen or so stuffed shirts out the door, then turns to give me one last look. "Mr. Yan, I expect you to be a little more alert when we resume this meeting. I suggest you get a cup of coffee in the meantime, hum?"
I put my head down, feeling like I'm about to pass out from sheer exhaustion. "Yes, sir." He just nods at me and leaves, closing the door behind him. How did I get here? I started working for this stupid company about three months ago as a mailroom lackey. How I got promoted so quickly is beyond me. Sure, I was excited about it at the time, but the pressure they've been putting on me lately has been unreal. The thought of drinking another drop of coffee or popping another NoDoze makes me sick to my stomach, and yet those three more hours were staring me in the face and I felt as though I'd die before making it to the end of the day.
I begin drifting off, barely hearing the door click open. "Damon, are you alright?" I can't look up to see who it is, but the voice seems vaguely familiar. "Damon, c'mon, wake up." Whoever he is, he's shaking me awake. If I had the strength, I'd stand up and sock him in the teeth.
"Whaaaaat…?" I whine, glancing up to see Rowan Dansky, my immediate boss glaring at me with genuine concern in his washed-out blue eyes. Rowan and I are on a first-name basis. He is the only person I halfway trust in this backstabbing conglomerate of assholes, in fact, he was the one who originally got me this promotion. I've always thought him a little young to be heading a Computer Programming department, when in fact he's in his early 20's, mere months older than I, but he's a great boss and an even better human being. He's always gone out of his way to be nice to me.
Still keeping his hand on my shoulder, he glances at the door and slides a palm over his gelled black hair. "What's wrong with you, man? You look terrible. Willard just came up to me and told me you were laughing in here for no reason."
"I…need…sleep." I rub one of my bloodshot eyes and put my head back down, my shaggy black hair falling onto my wrinkled sleeves.
"I don't know if I can send you home, Damon, the big wig will have a sperm whale. You know, any other day when he's not around, you know I would…" He stops and I hear him sigh as he walks around to the back of my chair, squeezing my shoulders comfortingly. "I'll see what I can do, but I make no promises. You know how he is."
I lift my head just a little, putting a hand over one of his. "It's all I can ask…thank you."
He pauses for a long moment and merely sighs, rubbing my shoulders slightly. "No problem, Damon. Just please, go get some coffee or something. C'mon, sit up. I'll go bring you back a cup." He rubs my shoulders harder when he sees I'm not responding. I can hear a smile in his tone. "Alright, up-see-daisy now. C'mon, work with me here."
"Can't." I mumble. "Dying."
He takes a long, deep breath and sighs, slipping his hands off my shoulders. "Alright…look, I can get into trouble for this, but I'm going to take you into my office and you can rest there. I'll just have Martin brief you on the rest of the meeting tomorrow or something. Okay?" I nod slightly. He grabs me from under my arms and helps me to my feet with a soft grunt. I wrap an arm around him as he helps me out the door and across the hall to his small office. The room was just big enough for an L-shaped desk, a chair and about ten metal filing cabinets stacked on top of each other almost as sloppily as the mountain of papers on his desk and computer. He sits me down in his swivel chair and clears a little area for me to put my head down. He then glances out his door several times nervously. "Alright, stay here. If anyone asks, you feel nauseous and feverish. I'll go talk to Willard." He flips off the light so only the soft glow of the hallway light illuminates the room and takes off. That's when I pass out cold.
"Damon?" I hear Rowan's soft voice and feel a gentle nudge to lull me from slumber. "C'mon, Damon, I let you sleep for as long as I could. You have to go home now." I open my eyes, rubbing the cobwebs from them. The whole place was dark and I could only make out a slight silhouette of Rowan's lean frame standing over me. For the first time today, I discover just how well he fills out that cotton blue button-down shirt.
"What…time is it?" I sit up, feeling worlds better than I had that afternoon.
He smiles at me, and there's a kindness there that makes me smile back at him without even realizing it. "It's almost 9. They're going to lock up the parking lot, so we'd better leave soon. C'mon, I'll walk you downstairs."
I stand up, stretching my arms and torso. "Why are you so good to me, Rowan?"
"Because you're so cute and loveable." He snickers, putting an arm around me as he walks me to the elevator.
I whip up the gayest voice I could muster to tease him back. "Oh, baby!" We both bust out laughing. I stop after a moment when I see him get his car keys out of his briefcase. "Shit! I forgot my bag! I'll be right back." I run off just as the elevator dings. He calls out after me to hurry up. I run over to my work station, which is basically just a few inches of desk with a big computer on it. I look for my bag but it isn't there. I think to myself that Rowan must've put it in his office so no one will go through my bag while I was asleep. Smart man. I quickly make my way over to his office and flip on the light so I don't have to go bumbling around in the dark looking for it. Low and behold, there it is, sitting right by the other side of his desk. As I bend down to retrieve it, I see a crumpled up piece of paper sticking out of the garbage with my name on it. Of course, I have to peek.
//To Whom It May Concern: I would like to respectfully recommend an employee of mine for the opening on your Board of Directors. His name is Damon E. Yan and he's been working for this company for just over three months. In that time span he has been promoted from mailroom clerk to personally assisting me in managing the Computer Programming Department. He has the potential to fill the shoes of retiree Arnold Manning and in my opinion, he will bring the success of this company to new and higher levels. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely, Rowan P. Dansky Senior Programmer\\
Holy crap! Talk about going out of your way for someone…this is unbelievable! I suddenly felt embarrassed, thinking that the Board of Directors will believe I had him write this recommendation for me. I smooth out the paper and stick it in my bag, flipping the light out and running back to the elevator. He's still waiting for me inside, pressing the Open button.
"What took you so long?" He smiles as I rush into the elevator with him.
"Sorry, I couldn't find it. I finally found it hidden in your office." I mentally debate on whether or not to confront him about the letter I found.
"Yeah, I forgot to tell you, sorry." I wave it away like it's no big deal. "I'm glad you're feeling better. Oh- Martin took notes and he said he'd update you tomorrow, so try to get in a few minutes early. And get a good night's sleep tonight, for Pete's sake."
"I'll try." I pause for a moment, turning my head away from him. "Rowan, I'm serious. Why are you always so nice to me? You're not like this with anyone else, are you?"
I can feel his eyes on me, though my head is turned away. "I see potential in you, Damon. I just wish you were more ambitious, you know? You're always complaining that you're tired, you're hungry or you're sick. You do amazing work, but the truth is, you're just plain lazy." He smiles at me but his eyes display a bit of frustration, and he touches my arm gently, almost lovingly. "I mean…you just got promoted a month ago and you've already used up three days of sick leave. What's the matter with you, man?"
The elevator announces our arrival into the parking lot with a loud ding. "I don't know; I'm just not cut out for this job. To be honest, I liked it better in the mailroom. Not as much pressure and a lot more sleep."
"You can handle it, Damon, you just don't feel like it half the time. You gotta get your ass in gear if you wanna get anywhere in this world." He walks me all the way to my car. I barely look at him the entire way.
"Don't lecture me, Rowan. I'm just not as much of a go-getter as you are. I'm content to be a blue-collar lackey. I just don't dig all this corporate garbage."
He laughs, cutting me off. "Garbage?? Damon, this corporate 'garbage' will set you up for life! If you play your cards right, you could be pulling in a 6-figure income every year, have a house out in the Hamptons with a pool, a limo and send your girlfriend shopping 7 days a week and all your kids to ivy league schools!"
"First of all, I don't have a girlfriend and I ain't EVER having kids…and second, I'd be all too willing to give up a rich, snooty life for something a little more down to Earth if it means I'll be happy."
Rowan turns away dramatically for a moment then turns back to me. "I swear to God, I hate to see people waste potential because it's easier to sit on their ass!"
"Listen, if I wanted to climb the ladder in this company, I'd want to feel like I did it on my own merits," I yank out the letter and shake it in his face. "NOT because my boss takes it upon himself to sign me up for jobs he KNOWS I'm not qualified for and that I'll never live up to!" I toss the paper to the muddy concrete floor and get into my car, slamming the door on him. He doesn't say a word, he just stands there like someone just threw an egg in his face. I give him a nasty, contemptful glare and peel out of the parking lot like a deranged maniac.
That night, I get no sleep at all. At a quarter after 1, I finally get up and get some tea. Sipping it slowly, my eyes stray over toward the phone. I think that maybe I should call Rowan up and apologize for being a dick, if for no other reason than keeping him as a friend. I go into my bag and pull out the piece of paper he'd written his phone number on and set it by the phone. He'd given his number to me the day I got promoted. He said if I ever needed anything, even if it's just to talk, he'd be there.
After two rings, he picks it up. "Hello?" He sounds wide awake.
"Rowan, please don't hang up. I'm sorry." He sighs into the phone, but doesn't respond. "I was a complete asshole. I know you're only looking out for me and you didn't deserve the verbal beating I gave you. Could I maybe take you out for lunch tomorrow to make up for it? You choose where."
"Can't do lunch tomorrow. Willard wants me to meet a few of his clients."
"Then tell me what I could do to make this better. Please?"
"I'm all booked up for the rest of this week."
"Alright, alright. We'll work something out then. I hope I didn't wake you up."
"No, I've been awake."
"I'm sorry. Is it because of what I said?" He doesn't answer. "Please, please, Rowan, let me make this up to you."
"Look…Damon." He pauses, as if gathering his thoughts. "You're right. I had no right pushing you the way I have been. Do things for yourself, at your own pace. I promise I won't get involved anymore. Okay?"
I rake my hand through my hair in frustration. "No, I swear, I didn't mean any of that. I really do appreciate what you're trying to do for me." Just then, I hear something in the background, almost like a baby crying. "Rowan, is that your kid or something?"
"Tootsie, my Chihuahua. She makes noises like a dying baby when I get noticeably upset." His tone is suddenly cold and rude.
I sigh deeply, rubbing my face, trying to think of a way I can get back into this man's good graces. "Hey, Rowan, what are you doing…like right now?"
"Right now? I dunno, watching TV on mute and talking to you. Why?"
"Let's go out. Let me take you out for some coffee and a bite to eat." I hear him snicker in disbelief. "C'mon, we'll make it a night out. We'll get the food to go, take it to the boardwalk and hang out. You can even bring Tootsie."
He chuckles. "Only if she can bite your ankles off, you jackass."
I laugh in return. "Alright, I deserved that."
This was a notion, Rowan in plain clothes. I had never seen him in anything but business attire, and here he is, sitting next to me on a deserted beach wearing a sweater and ripped jeans. I'm sitting next to him in basically the same thing and using my vinyl jacket as a beach towel. Since my jacket is so small, we're sitting as close to each other as we can get. It was closer than I've ever been to another man, and I'm rather enjoying it. I find myself glad he decided to leave the dog at home. All the gel has been washed out of his cropped short hair, and the wind makes it dance slightly with every subtle gust.
"Oh my God, this is amazing!" Rowan squeals in delight with a mouth full of Beef Chow Fun. We're basically dipping our chopsticks into one large take-out portion, which we're sharing. "We have to get food from here again…this is…incredible!"
"Mm. I told you…Chinese people know good Chinese restaurants. If you want to locate a good place to eat Chinese food, look for all the Asian people. It's a known fact."
"I'll take that advice, thank you. Wait…is this where I say that if you want to find a place with good burgers, look for all the rednecks?" We both laugh our asses off. We also decided to pick up a few beers on the way to the boardwalk, and so far, I'm on my second and he picks up his forth bottle from its nesting place in the sand and drains the rest of it.
"It's such a beautiful night, isn't it?" I smile, inhaling the salty air, closing my eyes. When I open them, he's looking at me with a slight smile. His blue eyes sparkle and his grin lengthens. He opens his mouth to say something, but all he can seem to do is smile at me. "What?" I grin back, somewhat nervously.
"Yeah, it's beautiful." He giggles childishly. The soft moonlight dances in his eyes like a pair of wild flames. He glances down, still smiling. "I also think I've had a bit too much to drink."
"The food should soak it up. C'mon, Rowan. You want to tell me something, I can feel it, now what's wrong?" I put my arm around him and he shrugs shyly.
"I…" He snickers again, then looks up at me somewhat seriously. "Damon, tell me honestly, how do you feel about me?" He glares into my eyes again, his gaze darting from one to the other.
"Feel about you? I don't know, you're probably the nicest guy I've ever met. You're funny, brilliant, ambitious and always there when I need you. What exactly are you looking for here?"
His gaze becomes soft, almost…sad. He shuts his eyes tight and for a moment, I could swear he's about to cry. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry…" He shrugs my arm away and gets up, walking a few feet away with his back turned to me. "I'm a real idiot, I swear, I should have never done this."
I immediately get up after him, running in front of him, grabbing him by both shoulders. "Rowan, what are you talking about? I thought we were having a good time."
He gives me a pathetic, forced smile, his eyes flood with held-back tears. "Oh, grow up, Damon. You think I looked out for you out of the goodness of my heart? If there's one thing you're gonna have to learn from the business world, is that EVERYONE has an ulterior motive." He points into my chest dramatically, tears drip from his eyes and down his flushed cheeks. My face goes blank. "I never really cared about your potential. I wanted you to like me so I could get into your pants!" He bursts out sobbing at this, hugging himself tightly. "I wanted you the moment I saw you. I was so crazy about you I went and got you a job working directly under me." He watches me stand there looking at him vacantly. "Don't you get it? I had you promoted so I could be with you! I'm not 'nice', I used you and I'm so sorry, Damon."
I turn my face away slightly, my hands sliding from his shoulders, drooping limply at my sides. "You…I mean…if you wanted me so bad, why haven't you ever hit on me? Or invited me to your place or something? Why wait until now?"
"I don't know, Damon. Maybe because you're really sweet and innocent, and every moment I speak to you makes me feel like a perverted scuzzbucket? I don't know!"
I look him in the eyes again, and see how much this is killing him. He looks like he wants the Earth Itself to open up and swallow him whole. I use my thumb to wipe one of his tear-streaked cheeks. I smile and gently touch his hips. He merely blinks at me, dumbfounded. "Did you ever think that maybe deep down, I knew what was going on? And maybe, just maybe…I wanted you too?" His expression softens noticeably at this. He reaches out with a hand and gingerly caresses my cheek. My eyes flutter closed at the contact, and I whisper to him almost inaudibly, "Go on, say it. Tell me."
After a moment, he presses his cheek gently to mine, holding the other side of my face, wrapping the other arm around me. His lips lightly brush my ear and I feel his hot breath tease my sensitive flesh. "I need you, Damon. I need you so fucking bad and I think I'm falling in love with you and I've been scared to death you'd reject me and be disgusted with me and quit, and then I'd never see you again. I can't handle that, Damon, I'd have rather just shut up and be friends with you than be honest and risk losing you." He huffs a little, then sniffs loudly. "And now I've gone and spilt my guts and you're still here." He chuckles a little through his tears.
"Yeah, I know. What the hell am I thinking?" I pull back a little and kiss his lips firmly. I don't know what comes over me. I've never kissed a guy before, but something about it just feels right. He kisses back gently, opening his mouth just a little, testing the waters. Matching his movements, I turn my head slightly to the side and nudge his lips open wider, teasing the tip of his tongue with my own. Within mere moments, our hands are roaming all over each other's bodies and we're French-kissing passionately. He lets a soft moan escape his lips in between kisses, and explores the soft, chilled flesh underneath my shirt with both hands, letting them roam smoothly over my back and waist.
"Oh God, Damon…I need you so fucking bad." He moans out breathlessly, only breaking contact with my lips for a brief moment. His brows are knit with pleasure and his eyes are glossy with lust. His kisses move down my face to my neck, as his hands move up my body from underneath my shirt. Again, he tests the waters, not wanting to take things too far. In all honesty, right now he has nothing to worry about. He licks and sucks at my neck, and I grip onto him desperately. My whole body shudders in response, and goosebumps start popping up everywhere from him tantalizing my sensitive skin.