It was quiet at the animal shelter and I left early. I showed up for my husband’s insurance company’s party after all. A garland hung over the front partition. Lights reflected off strands of silver and gold glitter a secretary had hung around a Christmas tree in careful rows. Somewhere on the floor people were singing an off-color version of Deck the Halls.
I checked Rich’s office, but it was locked. When I got back to the front Miranda, the department coordinator, was at her desk. She bent over, tugging at the stockings she wore under a plaid winter jumper.
“You’re here!” Miranda exclaimed. She recovered quickly. “Hi, Nicole. Rich wasn’t sure if you were coming.” Something in the words was stiff, but Miranda and I had never hit it off.
“Is he around?”
“Everyone just headed for the conference room.”
“Thanks, Miranda.” I walked away before she could pretend to engage me in friendly conversation.
The conference room was filled with staff and their significant others, helping themselves to catered food. Rich and the sales reps stood together. Each was twenty pounds overweight and hungry for a deal. All carried cell phones. They formed a modern day, electronic posse at the OK Corral.
Rich waved his arms for the group to quiet down, his face flushed. “Someone told me a new one yesterday.”
I’d been about to make my presence known, but my husband tells a great joke. “One fine weekend in August Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson went camping,” Rich began. “They found a remote spot in a clearing in the woods. The two set up their tent and fell asleep. Some hours later, Holmes woke his faithful friend.
“‘Watson,’ Sherlock Holmes spoke urgently. ‘Look up at the sky and describe what you see.’
“Watson obediently stared up into the skies. ‘I see millions of stars.’
“‘What do they tell you?’ Holmes asked.
“As usual, his companion was setting a puzzle to be solved. Watson pondered. ‘Their light tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets beyond what I can count. According to the constellations, Jupiter is in Leo. The warm air and the trees’ full foliage indicate late summer. From where the moon is over there on the horizon, time-wise it appears to be a quarter to three. I can see the Milky Way. It follows that tomorrow will be a beautiful day without clouds or rain.We’re in the middle of the wilderness, so it’s evident we are small and insignificant, but safe in the Lord’s hands. What do the stars tell you, Holmes?’
“The great detective was silent for a moment. ‘Watson, you fool, someone’s stolen our tent.'”
The conference room burst into laughter.
“That one’s for my wife Nick, who thinks I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a camp site,” Rich began, and I stepped forward. “Hey! Speak of the devil and she arrives! When did you get here?” My husband put an arm around me and gave me a kiss. It was more than just a display of good will for his colleagues; Rich was genuinely happy to see me. “Look at you!” he exclaimed.
I wore a brocade jacket over a white blouse and narrow black skirt. “I changed before I left the shelter.”
“Babe, you look great. I always tell you, you should dress in skirts more often.”
I opened my mouth to retort that I do wear them, as often as time and place allow. He flushed more deeply.
I walked to the window. Slow traffic crawled along the streets outside the office. Gray snow sprayed from under tires, sludge like my attempt at holiday enthusiasm. We’d had a short thaw, but then the softened snow turned to dangerous black ice.
“While I’m at it, can I get anyone another?” Rich asked the room. How many drinks had Rich had? Later that evening we planned to head to my parents’ house for a family get-together. His hand touched my elbow. “Babe,” he began.
I gave him a wide smile, pretending I didn’t see his guilty expression. “How ‘bout a drink for the spousal unit?”
Rich’s face smoothed out as he realized I was passing on righteous indignation. “I was going to ask if you wanted a gin and tonic,” he lied. “Here – take mine.”
“If you can’t beat’em, join’em!” I brought the glass to my lips. I swallowed and almost choked. It was a double, no, it tasted like a triple. I finished off the drink and followed Rich over to the conference table. He mixed new drinks as he kept up a line of patter.
“Can I get another?”
Rich grinned and refilled my glass.
© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell
Gin and tonic image courtesy of dreamstime.com.