CAUTION: This is a story of a romance that is still building. The people in it don't know what will happen next, but they hope they have found something beautiful and lasting. Because they have been so unsure of themselves until now, there is no sex at all until late in the story, and even then there is nothing very explicit.
Nicole Evans found herself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. She was unemployed, eligible for only the minimum unemployment compensation, and with little prospect of finding a decent paying new job.
At 18 years old and newly graduated from high school in her small home town, she had married Douglas, her handsome, long-time sweetie. It was understood by both of them that they would move to the nearby big city, where he would attend the world-renowned university while she worked and supported them both. Once he had his prestigious degree, he would land a high-salaried position and be responsible for their support and that of the children they would have. Being personable and pretty, with blonde hair, blue eyes and a very nice figure, Nicole had no trouble getting a job as a waitress. Her wages and tips, combined with the scholarship Doug had earned by virtue of his outstanding scholastic achievements and whatever loans and grants they were able to wangle for him, were enough for the two of them to live in reasonable comfort.
Of course, children were out of the question while she was working and he was busy with his studies, but the time would come, he assured her, when they would begin their family. With Douglas's brains and ambition, both of which he had in abundance, he would be able to support them both in style, along with however many little ones they might be blessed with.
After four years, Doug graduated Summa Cum Laude from the university, and they made further plans. What he needed to be able to write his own ticket, he told his adoring wife, was an MBA and a law degree. The combination of those two advanced degrees would make him one of the most sought after up-and coming young men in the business world. Nicole reluctantly agreed, and continued to keep her hopes and dreams of motherhood on hold for a few more years.
Finally, the day arrived, when Doug was through with his formal education and he was, indeed, in demand for executive training with a number of Fortune 500 companies. He made his choice and assured his wife, who was becoming more impatient with every year, that they were, without question on their way to prosperity in just a few more months. "Sweetheart," he told her. "We're on the gravy train now, and I can write my own ticket to anywhere I want to go."
Unfortunately for Nicole, the destination for that ticket was out of the marriage. "I'm so sorry, Nicky, but I've outgrown you," he told her. "I need a soul mate who is more my intellectual equal. I think it was a good thing we decided not to have any children, because now you'll be unencumbered by them when you begin your own career. Good bye and good luck."
With no children and no real estate or investments or any tangible possessions to speak of, the divorce went through quickly, with Doug being aided and supported by the legal staff of his new employer. His share of the divorce settlement was his multiple degrees and an open path to the top of the heap. His outstanding loans had been paid off as part of the signing bonus offered by his employer. Nicole got to keep her high school diploma, her waitressing job and the apartment for which Douglas, in a burst of generosity, had paid in advance the rent for the rest of the one year lease. After a few months, she had even less than that, because the restaurant went out of business, and work was scarce for somebody with her qualifications or lack of same.
Scarce, but not quite non-existent. While working as a waitress, Nicole had also picked up a few dollars moonlighting for an agency that specialized in placing temporary office workers. It was a good deal for the agency, because they had few, if any benefits to pay. It was a good deal for their clients too, because they had no benefits at all to provide for the temps, who did the dullest work for them, as well as no payroll taxes to pay. It wasn't even a bad deal for the people, like Nicole, who did the actual toiling, because the qualifications for the kinds of assignments they were given were minimal. Of course, the job was boring, and paid little more than minimum wage, but there was always the possibility that a specific job could lead to better things.
The agency had good reports on her from previous clients, and quickly hired Nicole, telling her to start work on the following Monday. Her first assignment was in a large building where she would be working with one of a row of computers. After two hours of simple instructions, she started inputting data on employees of a large corporation located a thousand miles away and across six state lines. The data was confidential, but it was extremely mundane and involved total strangers, so neither Nicole nor any of her coworkers cared about it, but they were careful to work accurately and quickly. There was some mysterious kind of quality control they had to beware of if they expected to continue get assignments after this one was done. In addition to that, most of them had enough of a work ethic to take pride in doing a reasonably good job.
Just before sitting down to begin work, Nicole was issued a sheet of heavy paper with three folds, and instructed to write her name on one of the faces, and tape the sheet into a triangle, to be placed at her work station. As she did, she noticed that the man in front of the next computer, a pleasant looking, rather tall man with dark hair and glasses, was named James Harper. Friendliness and informality among the worker bees was encouraged, so Nicole smiled at her neighbor and greeted him by his first name.
James Harper actually preferred being known as Jim, but he would answer to his more official handle, and he responded to Nicole in the same manner. Friendliness was encouraged, but not visiting on the company's time, so that was the extant of their conversation for a while, but they were able to resume it during their coffee break. Everybody left at the same time, and Jim and Nicole, who usually only allowed close friends to call her Nicky, took the same table in the cafeteria.
"How do you like the work so far, Nicole?" he asked her.
"Dull but tolerable. How about you, James?"
"Samo, samo, but why don't you call me Jim?"
"Okay. I will." Suddenly feeling friendly toward a fellow wage slave, she added: "And why don't you call me Nicky?"
Nicky had made a good first impression on Jim, partly because of her good looks and partly because of her forthright attitude, and the way she smiled and made eye contact with him. Her first impression of him had also been a good one; he was pleasant, and didn't seem driven the way her former husband always had been. Jim had a rather commonplace appearance, with hair that had started to recede and brown eyes behind his glasses. Except for being slightly taller than average, every thing that she could see about him was ordinary.
His appearance wasn't the only thing that was average about Jim Harper. He had finished high school about ten years earlier, graduating in the middle of his class. Completely lacking any ambition, he had served a hitch in the Army, without seeing any combat, and gotten out, still not knowing what he wanted to do with his life. For the last few years, he had held several jobs, including his present one working as a temp, but he hoped some day to find a permanent job, preferably something that appealed to him as a career.
Nicky definitely appealed to him, and he joined her at lunch in the same cafeteria. They had both, prudently, brought their lunches in brown paper bags, because the food being offered was from vending machines, and was both unpalatable and expensive. Jim had a bologna and processed cheese sandwich on white bread with a banana, and she had prepared for herself cream cheese on a bagel and fruit salad and, when she was finished eating, she put the salad container and the spoon back into the bag to take home, wash, and use again the next day. Having spent much of her life around food, Nicky was more aware of the many possibilities than was her lunch companion.
They also got together in the cafeteria for the afternoon coffee break. Nicky was a pleasant and attractive companion and Jim, who had never even come close to being married, could feel himself being quite drawn to her. She looked on him as a nice guy, and his plainness and lack of ambition were the direct opposite of her handsome and driven ex-husband. Although she felt no romantic attraction, she enjoyed his company and the contrast.
At 4:30, when the working day ended, Nicole reached under her workstation to retrieve her purse. "I hope the bus ride is better going back home than it was coming here," she commented. "I had to stand all the way. What line do you ride?"
"I don't. I drove here. What part of town do you live in?" When Nicky told him, Jim made her an offer. "I go right past there on the way home. Do you want a lift? It'll be faster for you and for me too, because I can drive in the carpool lane if I have a passenger."
It was a win-win situation. "I'll take that offer," Nicky replied.
The ride home was uneventful, which is the kind of thing that commuters prefer. Nicky directed Jim to her building, and he parked in front. "Do you want to come up for a while?" she asked. Nicole had nothing much to do that evening, and she preferred the idea of doing it with someone as compatible as her coworker seemed to be.
"Don't mind if I do." Jim was developing a considerable fondness for Nicky, and his previous plans for the evening had been just as uninteresting as hers.
After picking up a pizza just down the block, they shared it and conversation in the apartment that Nicky once thought of as the love nest of her and Doug. Still being relative strangers, their chitchat began in a rather desultory manner about the work they had done that day, but quickly improved. Jim had a few anecdotes about his years in the Army, and some of them were even partly true. Nicky had some interesting things to say about her observations while working as a waitress, and the evening passed most enjoyably for both of them.
However, the next day would be another one for working and, as Jim prepared to leave, Nicky suggested that she might know a way he could use the car pool lane again the next morning. He smiled, and agreed that it sounded like a good idea, and they arranged to meet on the front steps of her apartment building. Nicky walked him to the front door and, as she said good night, impulsively leaned forward and stood on her toes to kiss the cheek of her new friend. Jim smiled, said another good-night, and walked out to his car.
As arranged, he picked Nicky up the following morning and zipped along the expressway in the car pool lane, feeling rather smug when he saw the bumper-to-bumper traffic beside them. They arrived early and, after stowing their brown bag lunches away in the cabinet designated for that purpose, sat in the cafeteria chatting until it was time to begin work. That day was much like the previous one had been, in every way, including what they had brought their lunch bags. The two of them spent their coffee breaks and lunch time together, and Jim drove to Nicky's apartment. Except that, after a modicum of discussion, they got chicken from KFC, the evening passed the same way too, at least up until it was time to say goodnight.
Once again, Nicole escorted James to the front door of her building, but this time they walked arm in arm. She had developed a considerable fondness for the laid-back, unassuming man, partly because he was such a contrast to her pushy, brash ex-husband, and partly because she felt so nice and cozy around him. At the door, when he turned to say goodnight while hoping for another kiss, the hand that was on his arm remained there, and its mate reached out to hold his other elbow. They stood there like that, not really wanting to say good night, but knowing they had to, and that Wednesday would be another day.
Vocationally, Jim lacked ambition, but that didn't mean he had no interest in making a better life for himself. When he saw the pretty upturned face in front of him, he knew what he wanted to do about it. His arms went around Nicky's back while her hands reached up to clamp onto his shoulders, and their lips came together warmly. They were soft, but stayed closed, and both tongues remained in their respective mouths. Jim and Nicky had not reached that point in their relationship, but the kiss and the embrace that accompanied it held the possibility that they might do so, and soon.
"I'll pick you up tomorrow, same time, same place," he whispered.
They remained in that warm and very comfortable embrace for almost a minute, neither of them wanting to separate from the other. Finally, Jim released her back and Nicky removed her hands from his arms. He opened the door and stood there smiling at her.
"Good night, Nicky. See you tomorrow."
"Good night, Jimmy."
He walked out to the sidewalk and turned around and looked back. Nicky was still standing in the open door, and she waved when she saw him stop. Jim waved back and walked toward his car, passing behind a corner and out of her sight. Nicole closed the door and walked back to her apartment. On the way there, she remembered that it was Tuesday night, and she had missed the first night of "American Idol." For a few seconds, she pouted about that, since it was her favorite show, until she realized that spending the evening with Jimmy had been a lot nicer than watching a bunch of inept amateur singers and listening to the judges putting them down.
She had pleasant dreams that night, mostly revolving around a young, taller than average former soldier. When she awoke, she realized she had never had dreams like that about a man, except for Douglas and not even about him since she was a teenager. Nicky decided to be cautious, not wanting her budding relationship with Jimmy to end up like that one had.
The subject of her dreams also spent a pleasant night, with Nicky the principal character in his dreams. As a youth, he had been too shy to do much in the way of approaching girls, and he lacked any of the qualities that would have induced any of them to take the first step. Jim was not rich, and didn't ever expect to be. He was neither a good dancer, nor good looking nor blessed with charm, nor possessed of any of the other qualities that girls or women found attractive and, consequently, had never had any kind of romantic or sexual relationship.
Things improved when he was in the Army, but he still never even came close to finding any female with an interest in any kind of lasting relationship with him. He did meet a few women, and some had an interest in helping him spend his money, and a few even had an interest in sharing their beds with him. However, none of them, and no woman he met after finishing his tour of duty had ever had much appeal to him either, until that week. For the first time in his life, he was looking forward to driving to work.
The preliminaries before leaving were much better than they had been the previous days too. Nicky was waiting for him inside the building lobby and, when she saw him approaching the door, she opened it and hurried out to meet him. Instead of the handshake that had been her greeting on Tuesday, she continued where they had left off the previous night, with a hug and kiss on his lips. Not wanting to scare her away and ruin what already seemed to be a really good thing, Jim kept his hands off the pretty blonde's shapely ass while they were in the embrace, although it took an effort.
Their commute and the day in front of the computers were about the same as the previous day, which was the norm for the kind of work they were doing. Dull though the job was, the glances they kept sneaking at each other made it much more bearable, and the time they spent together in the cafeteria made the day almost fun. The only negative, to Nicky at least, was that Jim had brought the same bologna and cheese sandwich as he had the two previous days. The ride to her apartment was routine too, as was the pick up of Chinese takeout food from one of the many small restaurants around the area where she lived. The only thing not routine was the discussion they had while they were eating.
Nicole had always considered her ex-husband to have treated her quite shabbily, given her the shaft, even. Her complaints to others at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress had been met by indifference, and she had no sister or other close family member to share confidences with. Her friends from high school had all gone their separate ways, and she had been too wrapped up in Douglas while they were classmates to have made any really lasting friendships. Although Jim was still a relative stranger, Nicky felt as if she had known him much longer than three days, and confided all her pent up gripes to him.
"That was a mean trick, alright," he responded, after she had told him of her life with her ex. "I wonder if he intended all along to use you and dump you like that. I knew one guy in the Army who actually bragged about doing that to his girl friend."
Nicky hadn't really thought about that possibility before. She had always been aware of Doug's intellect and his generally ruthless attitude toward others, but she always thought of herself as being someone who was special to him and immune to being used the way others often were. On that night, though, when she thought more about it, she realized that Douglas just might have manipulated her into doing what he wanted for his own reasons. Even in high school, he had always been very possessive, and had tried, as much as he could, to prevent her from forming close friendships with any of their classmates.
The more she thought of it, the more she remembered that Douglas was always very much in charge of the situation, whatever it might have been. He seemed to know exactly what he wanted, and how to get it, and he almost always succeeded. His professed undying love for her could well have been bogus; it certainly wasn't undying. Without question he had used her, to pay the bills for his wants and needs while he was a student and sexually, with no children, who might have been any kind of financial drain, resulting from their couplings. She had given him ten of what should have been the best years of her life, and had nothing to show for it.
Nicole didn't cry. She was already beyond that, but the vague hope she had been holding that Doug might change his mind and want her back disappeared, as did any residual fondness she might have had for him. Nicky took another mental look at Jim, and thought again of how he was almost the exact opposite of the man she had been married to. With that no-good expelled from her heart, forever she hoped, there was a great burst of affection for the man she had only known a few days. Nicky smiled at him across the kitchen table, and offered him the last of the egg foo yung, which he had described as his favorite Chinese food. Her offer was accepted.
Jim and Nicky took their fortune cookies and the last of their tea into the living room, and he sat down on the sofa, leaning against one end, with his arm resting against the back. She sat next to him, close enough that if he dropped his arm down, it would be around her. Jim noticed that, and liked the idea. Not only was the very sweet and pretty Nicky sitting on the same comfortable piece of furniture as he was, for the first time she was close enough to cuddle if they decided to do so. He liked his coworker very much, and had even been having thoughts of a romantic relationship with her, but he had never expected things to progress in that direction as rapidly as they had started doing.