(continuing from yesterday)
Inside I was panicking, and some of that panic was translating into my actions. I was so lost in my own thoughts that I ran right into Ali Taha, one of the paper’s best reporters, knocking his huge stack of files over as well.
“Aw crap,” I said, stooping over to help him pick up the loose-leaf pile. “Sorry about that, Ali.”
“Are you doing alright?” Ali asked me, more like a doctor would ask a patient as opposed to a friend asking another friend.
“Uh, yeah, I think so, just… Lost in my thoughts. You know how it is.”
“Big story coming up?” Ali asked.
“Oh yeah,” I lied. “It’ll be headline-grabbing for sure.”
“I know the feeling,” Ali said, and I felt a slight pang of annoyance. He was always getting front-page stories and he had just indirectly said something along the lines of ‘Yeah, I get headline-grabbing stories all the time.’
After all the papers had been assembled, I got up, apologized again for running into him, then sat down at my desk. As I sat down at the computer I could not concentrate. The only positive to all of this was that I had a woman who passionately loved me. On the negative side, though, Candice was loving me at the cost of the love toward her boyfriend, and Ashley had overheard evidence of our impractical but extremely hot little meeting in the archives.
In short, I felt like the biggest tool. I opened my office email and saw that I had an assignment from the city editor to go and cover a protest at City Hall. There had been a scandal involving the deputy mayor, so people were naturally pretty angry about it,
I sighed and opened the desk drawer to grab my voice recorder, pen and pencil and notepad, and was about to walk off when I overheard Candice’s voice. I sat back down at my desk and strained to hear what she was saying.
“Look, Doug, we need to talk when I get home… I can’t tell you over the phone, it’s indecent!… No, wait…” She sighed. I went over to her desk.
“Everything alright?” I asked.
“I have to break up with my boyfriend,” she said, as quietly as she could so as to not attract attention. “I just can’t believe this is happening. We were engaged, and we were going to get married six months from now.” My heart sunk in my chest. I really had not thought this through when I made my choice last night.
“Well, I mean… You don’t need to tell him right away, do you?” I could not believe how monumentally stupid I was being.
“What, and just continue to screw you in the archives and random hotels?” she said, raising her voice a little. I could see a few heads looking up from their computers, and I felt a deep flush of embarrassment. The whole paper was going to know about this in a matter of seconds.
“I’ve got a story to do,” I said as a way of ending this conversation. I was about to leave, but I figured I had to do damage control. I walked over to Ashley’s office and knocked on the door.
“Come in,” she said. I entered, and her expression, usually jovial and bright, soured quicker than… I don’t have an appropriate simile in this case.
“Hey, A,” I said, my usual greeting to her. She ignored me. “Ashley?” I asked. I rarely ever had to use her full name.
“What do you want?” she finally said, after i stood in silence for the longest minute of my life.
“I, uh… Did you…”
“I didn’t see it, but I inferred it,” Ashley said with an air of finality. This was bad. I noticed she began typing with heavier keyboard strokes.
“In my defence, I didn’t know she–”
Ashley cut me off. “I don’t give a flying fuck who started it.” I was stunned. I had never seen her so angry. She was the first friend I made when I transferred in from an out-of-town paper. We always shared story ideas and funny stories from our lives. “I thought you had a little more class than that,” she continued. “I was wrong, obviously.”
“But you’re not going to tell everyone, right?”
“I’ll do whatever I damn well please,” she said, now raising her voice. I was confused, but I was beginning to get some clarity on the issue.
“What is this really about?” I asked. I may be awkward, but my time as a journalist gave me some key insights into human nature.
“You want to know what this is about?” Ashley said. She got up from her computer and slammed the office door, leaving the space to just her and me. “I’ll tell you what this is about. I loved you, you fucking moron!” She slapped me hard across the face, something I knew I deserved.
I put my hand up to my stinging cheek. It made perfect sense. We hung out so much, were always trading our innermost secrets as we got more comfortable with each other. She had slept over at my place sometimes if it got too late, and I at hers. Yet my eyes had only been on Candice, someone I had barely anything more than friendly relations with, and who had a boyfriend she was planning on getting married to. And what was I? I was the lowest of the low, and I felt like it too.
Ashley didn’t give me any chance to respond before she told me to get the hell out of her office. I obliged, trying not to draw any more attention to myself than I already had. I almost ran out of the office and then headed out to cover the protest I was supposed to cover.
The protest didn’t go on too long, so before heading back to the office, I went home. I didn’t know how to fix this, but I was going to damn well try.
“DEITY!” I yelled. I didn’t care if all the neighbours heard me. “DEITY!” I called again. No sign of the golden dude. “DEITY! I FUCKED UP! PLEASE! HELP ME!”
It was this admission of my failure that seemed to bring him to me. He appeared in front of me with a faint pop sound.
Wow, that was fast, the deity said.
“I didn’t think any of this through. I made a terrible mistake. I didn’t realize how much of a total asshole I’ve been,” I said.
And now you get it, the deity replied.
The light bulb in my head went off. I suddenly realized what had happened.
“You knew,” I said. “You absolutely knew that my plans would go awry,” I said.
Yep, the deity said, not denying a thing.
“So the whole idea was to give me a taste of what I wanted and then watch me fall to pieces?”
Well, not quite that. Think about what else happened.
“Oh…” now I knew. “You deities are crafty little bastards.” The deity grinned, and before he disappeared, he waved his hands a bit.
Consider my spell undone, he said, before vanishing from my life completely.
I headed to the office as quickly as I could, ignoring the elevator and bounding up the stairs to dispel my nervous energy. Candice was just about to leave for the day. “Hold on!” I said. “Please, don’t break up with your boyfriend. I don’t know him, but he sounds like a really good guy.”
Candice shook her head as if she was trying to figure something out. “You’re right,” she said. “I don’t know what I was thinking. What happened this morning… Let’s pretend that never happened, shall we?”
I nodded. “I think that would be best.” Candice nodded and walked out the door. Now I just had one more problem to fix.
Ashley’s office was empty, so she had obviously gone home already. I paced the floor for a minute thinking about how I could possibly make this up. This was not some kind of romantic comedy, and I would not be able to fix the problem with a simple bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolates. And she sure as hell probably wouldn’t be taking any of my phone calls.
I had an idea. I raced out of the office again and headed over to Ashley’s place. She lived in a detached house just down the street from work. Out of the trunk of my car I got my ukulele, an instrument I always carried around with me. I walked up to the door of Ashley’s house, but rather than ring the doorbell, I started to strum the ukulele and sing a song we both enjoyed. It was Hexes and Ohs’ “I’ve Been a Fool.”
I began to sing:
Girlfriend, oh help me girlfriend
Help me get a load off my mind
I’ve been sad for an awful long time
Girlfriend, oh help me girlfriend
Let us take solace in one another
Have a drink to something or other
I have been a fool, this life has been so cruel
Everyone can see just what it’s done to me
I wanted so much more, but I’ve been there before
Now everyone can see, I live inside a dream.
At that point, the door to Ashley’s house opened a crack, and I saw her peek through. It was a start.