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At thirty-eight Mike Jones had the slumped shoulders of a loser, and for good reason. He’d lost his wife, lost his executive job and had escaped bankruptcy by a whisker and had now slunk home to live with his parents, those events occurring in that order.
The job market was tight but he’s found a position, at sixty percent of his former salary, as assistant chief admin officer at Burling Medical Laboratories Supplies. Mike had politely asked his father to drop him off at his new workplace but retired high voltage reliability engineer Archie growled, “Get a bus.” Amy his mom kept out of that exchange, knowing her place in the pecking order and anyway she couldn’t drive.
Mike stood in the two-entrance see-through bus stop shelter waiting for the 102 City Express due at 7.25.
It arrived on time and he was boarding when he caught sight of a woman running. He stepped off and told the driver, “Woman coming, running.”
The driver looked at him but said nothing.
The woman, shapeless under her coat and wearing a cute hat puffed, “Thanks” to Mike and boarded, Mike almost treading her heels. She dropped a dollar when placing her $1.70 in the fare box. Mike caught it and tossed it in the box for her, receiving his second grateful smile of the morning. She tool a seat beside someone near the front so Mike walked to the rear and sat beside a wheezing guy who filled his seat and a third of Mike’s.
After two more stops the bus went on to the freeway for the express trip into the city.
At the third stop in the CBD Mike followed the woman in the brown coat off the bus. She took a left and he turned right and thought no more about her, instead focusing on the day ahead. The chief admin officer appeared to be a bad-tempered bitch and so he wasn’t looking forward to Day 1 at the new job.
Mrs Edwards introduced him to the other twenty-three in admin. He’d met top management during his second and third interviews.
“You handle your own paperwork and correspondence but may use my PA Betty to assemble your reports and convert your commentaries into proper English.”
“Thanks.” Mike said, attempting to inject a tone of gratitude. Saying lighten your tone bitch to one’s boss on the first day at work would be a kiss of death.
Mrs Edwards tossed him a bunch of invoices with copies of dispatch slips attached prepared by general staff. She instructed him to check, approve/reject and hand them back to her.
Fifty-five minutes later he took them into her.
“I’ve finished. The eight on the top red-tabbed require re-processing.”
“You can’t have done a proper job so quickly,” Mrs Edwards said looking on her desk for her glasses that were propped in her hair. Mike left her to fiddle, wondering if she knew what day it was.
Later Mrs Edwards called him into her office for coffee.
“I couldn’t find anything wrong with your approvals,” she accused.
Mike sipped his coffee and mumbled thanks.
“So you know what the bottom drawer is?”
“The place for low priority work that spells nothing but trouble.”
“Correct. This folder from my bottom drawer requires a report overdue by at least six months. I’d like you to work on it.”
“I doubt it,” she smiled.
A smile? Jesus, thought Mike, scratching through his sandy-colored hair while wondering if that was her smile for the week.
That evening his mom kissed him, took his coat and asked how had his day gone.
Mike replied it had been a little disjointed and people were a little unfriendly but he believed he’d coped well. Although in the same room, his switched-off father looked up when Mike sat beside him and said, “Oh you’re home?”
Next morning was sunny and Mrs Brown Coat of the morning before arrived as the bus arrived and smiled at Mike who’d stepped back for her. She wore a tight dark business suit and no hat. Her dark hair was cut fashionably short and Mike approved the breast-line and as she stepped aboard he noticed the great-looking calves. She appeared to be in her early forties and would be married. Mike wondered what her attitude would be to illicit sex.
Just after 4:00 that day Mike finished his analysis and emailed the bottom drawer report findings and his recommendations.
Minutes later Mrs Edwards entered his office waving the email.
“Do you really think it’s this simple?”
“Yes the analysis of data is conclusive. Your receivables section is far more efficient than the payables section and because both teams have the same supervisor/trainer it is doubtful it’s a management problem. Therefore as I suggest you recommend to management they don’t bring an expensive consultant in to study the problem, at least not initially. First you should switch a couple of women from the receivables team to the payables team and in two months reassess the situation.”
“I can’t see the CEO buying that. The solution seems too easy.”
“Actually the supervisor needs a rocket for not trying this herself. But insert a word before expensive casino oyna consultant, such as ‘very’ or ‘exceedingly’ or go for the jugular and suggest ‘a frightfully expensive consultant’ but perhaps that’s a bit too emotive for a management report.”
“Mike you are a genius. Thank you. I’m so grateful.”
Mike gave her a genuine smile but knew she should receive a rocket for not processing that file months ago.
Sleet threatened again next morning, bringing out coats again. Mrs Brown Coat was already in the shelter when Mike arrived but wearing a blue coat and a blue hat this time, the hat being too wide-brimmed to be cute.
“Good morning,” she smiled. “We meet again. I’m Merle.”
“Hi I’m Mike. You look lovely.”
Mike swore to himself and chided pace yourself you chump.
“I apologize for being so personnel.”
She turned back to him. “I-I’m going through a rough patch domestically.”
“Me saying sorry does nothing to assist, does it? Just let me say you appear to have a strong back so are very likely to cope well.”
She looked at him curiously and said thank you as the bus arrived.
Mike dropped in his fare and turned, almost knocking over Merle who had been waiting for him. She looked at his hand on her shoulder placed then to prevent the collusion and he drew it away abruptly.
“Sorry, I almost knocked you over.”
Her green eyes flickered. “Sit by me this time. We ought to find a vacant double up near the back.”
They settled and she said, “Do you live on Elm?”
“Yes at eight.”
“We are eighteen. Then you’ll be Mrs Jones’ boy. I was on her committee that organized our street party last spring.”
“Yes my mom is Amy Jones. So what’s the problem at home?”
“Come on Merle, you might feel better discussing it.”
“With a stranger?”
Merle hesitated and then bit her lip before saying, “My husband is bullying me psychologically. So what have you to say to that?”
“Do you two have children?”
“He has a daughter left she abandoned him when he announced he would be marrying me. She’s a young adult living with an older man.”
“Well the solution is simple.”
“You tell him unless he seeks medical treatment pretty damn quick you will leave him?”
“Omigod,” she said, staring straight ahead.
“That’s what I thought I should do but lack the courage to do it.”
“Consult someone for support.”
“What about you?”
She had her arms folded so Mike patted her thigh, close to her knee and said unfortunately he wasn’t expert in that field.
Merle looked at him directly. “Are you trying to hit on me?”
That jolted Mike but he was up to it. Settling into his new job had seen his confidence return.
“I must admit I did have a fleeting thought along those lines when I saw you in that tight suit yesterday and particularly when I saw the back of your lower legs when you boarded… you have really great legs.”
“At least you are upfront about that.”
“Do you want me to be really upfront?”
She looked at him nervously and said, “Yes but keep you voice down.”
“As I said I’m no expert but in my opinion your marriage is over. Psychological bullying suggests one of these possibilities: Your husband is angry he’s not getting enough sex from you, or you mother is interfering with your domestic affairs and sharp-tonguing you or my pick is he’s ageing and is feeling it and therefore resents your youth and vitality and by the way you dress I reckon you probably are holding down a very good job and he’s jealous about that.”
Merle said, “God I had expected you to tell me what you wanted to do with me. Well those are good theories so let me answer: One, if anything I’m too sexually demanding for him these days. Two, my parents live in Florida and didn’t want me to marry him so the only time I see them is when I go to Florida. Three, I’d like to think about that theory about resentment fueled by jealousy. I do believe it has a ring of plausibility applying to my situation.”
By the time they left the bus and parted that morning they knew each other’s ages (she was forty), where they worked and what they did (she was assistant accountant for a building renovations company), and what foods and what films they liked. She now possessed his cell phone number but had said she’d never call him and he declined taking her number saying his phone would save it when she called him.
“I won’t be calling you. I’m a married woman.”
Mike just smiled and said he’d wait for her to call.
She smiled and he knew she’d taken a likening to him.
Merle wasn’t at the bus stop next morning and as the bus rolled off and joined the traffic flow Mike looked along Elm Avenue and in the distance saw her running and then slow to a stop. The next bus would be in fifteen minutes.
Mid-morning Merle called him. She sounded breathless and said, “Hi it’s Merle Chapman.”
Ah so her surname was Chapman, thought Mike, who was then told, “Just listen to me and canlı casino don’t reply. I need to say this. We were having sex last night and I found myself wishing you were with me. Bye.”
That confession shook. Christ how could a woman he scarcely knew call him to say that? He didn’t know what to think so stopped looking at his phone and snapped it shut.
By 12:30 he knew what to think so called her.
“Hi thanks for calling to give me your phone number. Lunch at 1:00?”
He could feel her tension and so he challenged, “Come on, do something for yourself for once.”
“Yes,” Merle whispered. “Almo’s Café.”
He said he knew it and said to remain relaxed and wear a smile.
Mike arrived at Almo’s and noted she was already seated.
He hung up his coat and ambled over and said, “I thought this was you; I recognized your lower legs.”
She blushed although must have known he couldn’t see her legs. Her face then tightened and she said, “I must have been mad saying what I said to you when I called.””
Her mouth opened to retort and she caught his sly smile. “You are such a gentleman.”
The waitress arrived. Neither of them had to consult the menu. Merle ordered a small bowl of chowder and two dry biscuits and Mike ordered a salmon steak with a touch of salad, Italian dressing and one scoop of fries.
He suggested wine but she declined so he requested coffee top-ups.
Merle was straight into it. “Why are we here?”
Mike had a prepared response. “You have taken a bit of a fancy to me and I’m feeling good about us but this is a business lunch, to discuss strategy.”
“A-about my marital problem?”
“That’s why I accepted this invitation, hoping to receive some support.”
“Do you wear floral bras?”
“Answer me. This is part of the softening up process to build your confidence in me.”
“Oh yeah?” she giggled.
He said see, his ploy was working already and she frowned and then her face relaxed and she nodded quite thoughtfully.
“Yes quite often, top and bottom. It makes me feel stylish and modern.”
“Do you own crotchless panties?”
She colored highly and whispered no, that her husband was told old to approve of that sort of thing.
“Good, the more areas you an identify where incompatibility has developed between you two the easier it will be to ditch him. I’m serious about that and good girl for not mentioning his name to me. I don’t wish to know it.”
“At my age I’m scarcely a girl Mike.”
“It was used as an endearment. To me you are young and lovely.”
Merle swallowed. “Are you sure this is about strategy?”
“Absolutely. One has to be confident to act courageously. A tactic you must adopt is to claim a headache when he wants sex, but not every time.”
“He’s down to once a week.”
“Christ Merle, you are in your prime. You’ll need it at least nightly.”
Merle looked at him with big green eyes that appeared to have turned luminous. Mike saw her swallow hugely so he grinned widely and nodded at her thoughtfully.
High color swept to highlight Merle’s face and he thought he noticed her nostrils flare slightly. They sat caught in the silence of deep thought and the waitress arrived with their orders.
Outside the café Merle thanked him and said she wasn’t going to kiss him or touch him. But she learned forward and kissed his cheek, turned and hurried off muttering.
Mike thought she was repeating the phrase, “You mad bitch.”
Well yeah he’d go along with that unless she was being driven by huge desire to break out of her feeling of domestic imprisonment. He believed she would normally be a well-adjusted confident woman but her worsening domestic situation was making her somewhat erratic in behavior and explained her nervousness. But what if this was all a charade, that she was simply out to get him into her pants?
Mike considered that on the walk back to the office and decided that was very unlikely as the first time she’d mentioned domestic disharmony he’d glimpsed pain in her eyes. She’d have to be a superb actress to have projected like that if that was a lie. No he was confident she was indeed a woman in need of supportive counseling. He hoped he wouldn’t stuff up in assuming the role of being a listening post and adviser.
Next morning gray and black clouds lay heavily in the sky and he found Merle already at the bus stop. She’d been watching for him and as he stepped into the glass and aluminum shelter she pulled out two small mugs for him to hold while she poured hot coffee with a dash of brandy in it.
“Hmmm. You are very creative and I also commend you for wearing wool trousers today.”
“I thought you might be disappointed.”
“No warm legs mean a warm heart. It’s an inappropriate day for me thinking of buying you a pair of crotchless panties.”
“God Mike please don’t do that. He’d have a fit, that is providing he knew what they were.”
“You could keep them in your toy box.”
Merle grinned. “Whatever gave you the notion I’d have toys?”
“All kaçak casino women have a toy box so don’t you?”
“I have a couple of what you call toys, yes.”
“Well there’s my answer.”
Mike you won’t buy…”
“No of course not. Here comes our horseless carriage,” he said, handing back the half-cup container and saying, “I ought to kiss you.”
She flushed and her lips parted and Mike said helpfully, “Time to board.”
When they were seated she whispered, “Mike I’m not seeking a relationship.”
“Aren’t you just a tiny bit interested?”
She fidgeted brushing her coat where it lay over her thighs although it didn’t appear to need brushing.
“Do you feel ready to commence the dumping process?”
Her brushing hand froze.
“It seems so inhumane.”
“Think like that and you’ll never do it. Think when I dump him he’ll find someone around his own age and who is less sexually demanding.”
“I’m not excessively sexually demanding.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Of course not.”
“Do you like your nipples bitten after being really aroused?”
He sat silently watching the rush hour traffic. Finally she said yes although she had to struggle to remember when they were last nipped.
“That’s why they’re called nipples.”
She giggled and reached for his hand and they held the light grip until it was time to stand to get off at their stop.
They stood talking as the bus rolled onward.
“Are we having a romance Mike?”
“I’d say so.”
“Thank you for being honest. I would never believe anyone if they claimed their romance started at a bus stop. It just sounds so inconceivable.”
“I really felt it today when you poured me hot coffee at our bus stop. You are to blame.”
“Oh Mike, that’s brutal.”
“Bullshit. Just be happy you are entitled to say you launched the romance.”
“God I’m such a mad bitch.”
“You are lovely and don’t forget that. The time has come for you to act. Think about it today at work.”
“Let’s me for lunch. I’ll pay.”
“No sorry. Lunch will be your prime thinking time. I want you to eat alone.”
“It’s time to be brave Merle. Keep your focus.””
“May I kiss you?”
Instead of replying Mike kissed her on the lips, lightly and sweetly. He felt her lips open just a tad.
He pulled away and she breathed, “Omigod, that was beautiful.”
He just smiled, turned and walked off, muttering, “I’m so happy” pitched loud enough for her to hear.
* * *
Sara Lynch was left alone at the lunch table in the office café with Mike. He thought that was just by chance until she asked, “Are you attached?”
“Not at the moment. I’m divorced.”
The deputy sales manager said, “There is talk you might be gay?”
“Who me?” Mike reacted in horror.
“What kind of answer is that?””
He recovered and said, “Date me and find out.”
She giggled nervously and said she was married.
“Are you attempting to tell me you’re getting all the sex you can handled?”
She reddened and said she’d never been taken to the limit.
“Anal as well?”
She whispered to him to keep his voice down.
“Six hours with me and you’ll be legless.”
Sara turned white and pleaded, “Mike can we forget we had this conversation?”
“Yeah right but if you’d like to drop into the men’s with me now I’ll give you a quickie.”
“Mike please that’s enough. You’ll have to excuse me. I have er an appointment.”
“Off she hurried and Mike smiled, believing there would be no more talk about him being gay.
Merle only just made the bus next morning. She sat beside Mike and he took her hand.
“I took him on and he denied everything of course and jumped up and down and threatened to hit me. But he didn’t. He smashed one of my best vases instead.”
Merle gaped and said he didn’t understand. The vase was worth several hundred dollars.
“Not any more,” he grinned, squeezing her hand. “It also means you really got to him.”
“Well he appeared shattered when I yelled either go and consult a shrink or divorce me. He yelled I was no fucking good as a companion and was always whining about not getting enough sex.”
Mike eyed her.
“Er of course that was a damn lie. He slept in the spare room and didn’t come out to join me for breakfast. So after eating and clearing away I left for work without seeing him. I await his response with interest.”
Mike asked what did he think his response would be?
“He’ll not want to do anything, hoping my accusation will go away but if he takes that attitude it will come up and bite him. I’ll divorce him. So what do you think of that?”
“You do the right thing for you. No one else counts. You already know I reckon your marriage is over.”
Merle leaned over to him and whispered, “You are keen for you and I to have sex, aren’t you?”
Merle’s tongue tip protruded. “When?”
“As soon as you’re ready.”
“I’m picking that will be quite soon. After I file for divorce I won’t consider having sex with you as been adultery.”
Mike told her he admired her and she must concentrate on making the best decisions to assure herself of a good future.
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