As he looked at the clock, David started to get angry. By what right did their idiot boss keep them late? Didn’t he know that people had schedules to keep, children to pick up, rides to meet, and lives to live? Was anything Wolkowski saying something that couldn’t wait? What was the point of torturing them like this?
Thinking about it, David became furious. He writhed in his chair. Then a strange thought occurred to him.
What would Kevin do?
Surprising even himself, David stood up and looked at Wolkowski. The tall, gaunt, gawky manager stopped in mid-sentence and looked at him curiously.
“I’m sorry, Tom,” he said, “but it’s almost 5:30 now and this meeting was supposed to end forty-five minutes ago. I can’t stay any longer. I’ll bet most of us have places we need to be. Can you send us any other details by e-mail tomorrow morning?”
Tom sputtered, “Uh—”
“Great,” David said, cutting him off. “Thanks. I know we all appreciate it.” He pushed in his chair and made for the door. His grateful fellow employees followed him. He held the door for Rachel and then Dana as the young women brushed past him.
Did Dana wink at him?
He brushed it off as wishful thinking and hurried to his desk, gathering up his bag and a few papers he needed to take home with him. He passed Kevin’s cluttered cubicle, but his friend had long since left. As the employees-only fire door closed behind him, David realized something.
I just stood up for myself.
When he stopped to consider it, it felt… good. He’d stood up for himself and, in so doing, had stood up for everyone else in that interminable meeting. If that was what Kevin would have done – well, short of beating someone up or poisoning everyone – then maybe the chubby, oddball engineer was on to something. It felt damned good not to let that idiot Wolkowski take advantage of him.
A group of employees – Rachel, Dana, and a couple of software engineers, as well as an older woman David recognized as an admin in Quality Assurance – was clustered in the parking lot next to Dana’s car, a Sebring convertible with the top up. It took David a moment to realize Dana was calling his name.
“David!” she said again from across the lot. “Over here.”
David nodded as he walked up. The engineers were Yongchow Wu and Paul Jacobsen, passing acquaintances whom David did not know well. “Uh,” he started lamely, “I… I mean, hi.”
“We’re going to MacGregors for Happy Hour,” Dana said. “Do you want to come with us?”
“I think we’ve earned it,” Paul commented.
“I… I don’t know,” David hesitated.
“Come on,” Dana said. “We owe you for getting us out of that meeting.”
“Hell, I’ll buy you a drink myself,” Paul said, “out of gratitude alone. I was ready to gnaw off my own leg to escape.”
“Oh… well, okay,” David relented. His eyes walked up Dana’s body and then down again before he caught himself. “I… I have to call home and let someone know,” he managed. He already had his wireless phone out and was dialing. It rang several times after he put it to his ear.
“What?” Kim answered.
“I’m going to be home late,” he said.
“Whatever,” she said, and hung up.
“Ready?” Dana asked him.
“Absolutely,” David said, exhaling.
* * *
More screwdrivers than David could count later, he was leaning against the bar with Dana propped against him, laughing at jokes that even he didn’t think were funny. She had turned out to be surprisingly ebullient in this social setting. David surprised himself again by loosening up, however slightly. This task was made easier by the fact that Dana couldn’t stop talking about the stupid look on Wolkowski’s face when David interrupted his monologue. Wu and Jacobsen had drifted off somewhere, while Rachel and the other admin – Carla, David had finally remembered – were outside smoking.
“You’re a lot more fun that I would have thought,” Dana said, more than a little drunk. “You’re so serious all the time.”
“I do have kind of a stick up my ass,” David said. It felt good to laugh at himself.
“I thought you and that Kevin guy were a gay couple,” Dana said. David almost snorted his drink at that. “Sorry,” she said. “I only thought that because you always hang out with him. It’s pretty obvious he has the hots for Rachel, though.”
“He’s happily married,” David said dutifully.
“Oh, I know,” Dana said. “I figured that out. But, come on, look at her. Who wouldn’t have the hots for Rachel?”
David, too drunk to stop himself, didn’t try. “She’s pretty, but she’s got nothing on you,” he said. “Don’t think I didn’t notice.”
Dana blushed and turned away. David was suddenly worried that he’d crossed the line. Could he be brought up on charges of sexual harassment outside the office? When Dana turned back to him, though, she was smiling.
“You’re just saying that,” she said.
“No, really,” David blundered ahead. “I—”
“Hey,” someone said, breaking in. David looked past Dana to the young man standing somewhat unsteadily before her, a beer in his hand. He was tall and broad, wearing a black leather jacket over a rugby t-shirt, his jeans fashionably ripped, a pair of untied boat shoes on his feet. “Can I buy you a drink?”
“I have one already,” Dana gestured with the plastic cup half-full of Tom Collins in her hand.
“Then let me buy you another,” the big man said, slurring his words. “You are one fine looking woman, you know that?”
“Get lost,” Dana said flatly. “You’re drunk.”
“You ain’t so sober yourself, bitch,” he shot back.
“All right, that’s enough,” David said, shocked at the sound of his own voice. He didn’t like this; he didn’t like the conflict or the danger it promised. He would not simply stand there while someone treated Dana so rudely, however. “You were asked to leave. Now I’m not asking you. I’m telling you. Leave her alone.”