Bargaining with the Bride(6)

By: Allison Gatta

In his head, he was already planning out how strong he wanted to make his first pot of coffee for the day, but a blip in the periphery of his mind alerted him to an error in his morning ritual.

There was a sound, distant, but distinct, coming from behind him. A melody?

Turning, he spotted a door standing ajar in the far corner of the office. He sighed and headed for Rachael’s domain, already knowing what he'd lay witness to when he assessed the damage she'd wrought the night before. He had to admit music would be a first, but he didn’t doubt Rachael would still probably lay sleeping on her desk, as usual, papers stuck to her face, a stapler clenched in her grip.

Why she never slept on that couch of hers was beyond him, but at least she didn’t complain about the words that would almost certainly be printed across her cheek for the remainder of the day. Some of the secretaries started a bingo game guessing at what her skin would say from one day to the next.

It wasn't exactly a kind thing to do, but at least he'd made a tidy sum the last time he'd, um, encouraged their escapades. For morale purposes, of course.

By the time he leaned against her doorjamb, the Madonna tune on her radio was winding to an end. He prepared for his usual style of rousing her, clearing his throat before he said, "Good morning, Rachael."

As always, Rachael jerked back in her chair, forms still clinging to her face so that she looked like a mass of blond curls held together by printer paper.

Swatting the sheets away, she answered, "Oh, good morning Garret. Sorry about, um, all this. Won't happen again."

He raised his eyebrows in response. Even if she meant it, they both knew it was a lie.

"So, how late was it last night?" His gaze traveled over the dumping ground that was her office floor. He'd expected the usual debris—a smattering of paper clips, broken pencils, dried up markers, and wads upon wads of paper, balled up and cast aside for better ideas. What he found instead was a spray of magazines, all featuring women in large white cupcake dresses, and a veritable distillery of tiny vodka bottles, all completely empty.

"I hadn't realized that you were doing market research for Svedka as well. You might advise them to get rid of that robotic woman on their commercials. To put it lightly, she creeps me out."

Her dark brown eyes were still hazy with sleep and she rubbed each of them in turn as she took in the mess around her. He half smiled, but Rachael's cheeks started to redden as she spluttered, "Oh, well, it wasn't on company time and nobody was here so—"

"No, no, you know I love when my executives drink alone in their office. It's very Mad Men of you," he chuckled, but for some reason, Rachael had grown immune to humor.

"I'm really sorry," her voice was husky, on the verge of tears.

He braced himself. Tears weren't really an area of expertise for him. The molecular structure of them, their biological function, sure. That was all well and good. But when they started pouring out of somebody? That was less than desirable. By far.

"Hey, you know I don't care about that stuff. Everyone has to take the edge off sometimes." He took a deep breath and settled onto her couch, pushing aside a blanket that was thrown haphazardly across the sofa. A lumpy pillow sat discarded on the coffee table in front of him, and he picked it up and placed it in his lap. "Rough night?" He asked, doing everything in his power to squash the deafening silence as she stared at him.

"No, uh, not really."

He gestured to the mass of bottles; "These must have done their job then, huh?"

She expelled a hollow laugh. That was something, at least. Anything other than the maddening noiselessness.

"So, you just like sleeping at your desk?" Every sentence felt like prodding a hibernating bear. Except instead of attacking him with her ferocity, she would explode into an ocean of tears. Somehow, he felt like he would have preferred the claws.

"It helps my posture," she sniffled. Oh, no. His stomach flipped, recognizing the call of emotional cthulhu—female sniffling.

"You know, you don't have to talk about it. Why don't I just help you straighten this place up, huh?" Raising from the sofa, he gathered the magazines from the floor and set them on the coffee table in a neat stack before scooping up a handful of tiny liquor bottles and dumping them into the trash. "Where did you even get these?"

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