“So how’s it going?”
I looked up at my desk mate and gave him a friendly but I’m-trying-to-work smile. “Pretty good. I’m finally almost finished with this article on the upcoming Christmas parade.” For the second time. The first time, it hadn’t been “jolly” enough.
My coworker, Mick, shook his head in commiseration. “Lester is such a dick. I don’t get why he’s always picking on you.”
“Because I’m a woman.” I didn’t have to wonder. The other female journalists all got the same treatment from the editor, a man named Lester Shaw who might as well have been a transplant from the 1950’s. The best stories always seemed to wind up with the male reporters. Mick had been at the Willow Creek Journal for the same amount of time as I had; while I was working on a fluff piece, he was reporting on the heroic cop who’d saved a trapped teenage girl after a wreck outside the local high school.
“You’ll show him,” Mick assured me. “You ought to be the one writing this piece.”
“Thanks, but – “
“I’m serious,” he asserted. “You and I both know you’re better at this than I am. How often do you fix the stuff I get wrong?”
Pretty often, actually. He was always coming to me to check a fact or source. “You’re a good journalist.” I was a little bitter that he had the story I wanted, but I wasn’t upset at him; he didn’t get to choose any more than I did.
“I’m crap,” he said with a sideways grin. “You’ll be sitting in the editor’s office one day.”
“I don’t know about that.” Maybe one day, in the very, very distant future. If I really let myself dream and forget about my responsibilities, I envisioned myself still hunting down stories in my fifties. I had always been the quiet girl who didn’t like being noticed – except when I was interested in a story. I’d talk to anyone I needed to without a problem as long as I had the story in front of me.
“You will be. And I’ll probably still be here in the bullpen.”
I laughed softly. “You might still be working on this story, considering how you type.” With that, I saved my article and shut my computer down. “See? I’m done and you’re still working.”
“Ha! Shows what you know.” He got up from his desk, stretching and cracking his back. “I finished too.”
“Miracle of miracles.”
He walked outside with me, and the late evening December chill immediately started seeping through my clothes. “Hey, Nora, listen.” He smiled at me, his head tilted slightly to the side. “What do you say we get something to eat?”
The way he was looking at me…the gears in my head ground to a halt, complete with screeching and red emergency lights and a robotic voice saying, “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” He was asking me out. A flush pinked my cheeks, and I shook my head. “Oh, Mick, no, I can’t. I have to go pick up my son from my parent’s. I told you about Caleb. I’m already late.” Mick and I were the last ones on our floor this evening.
His smile didn’t slip at all. “So why don’t you bring the kid? I’d love to meet him.”
“I’m really flattered, Mick, but…no.” I spread my hands out in front of me apologetically. “I’m sorry. I’m just – I’m not dating right now.” I’m not dating ever.
Disappointment clouded Mick’s face – which, I had to admit, was a cute one – before he pasted on a smile. “I understand. You probably don’t have time to focus on anything but work and your son, right?”
“Pretty much, actually.”
“If you ever change your mind, let me know, yeah?” He gave me a soft look. “I’d really like to get to know you, Nora. Outside of work.”
I flushed more, shifting on my feet. “If I change my mind, I’ll let you know,” I promised him. Not going to happen. I’d learned my lesson.
I watched him walk away. I no longer felt the cold, and it wasn’t just because my face was keeping me warm now. I could only think of that day I’d been asked out for the first time. I’d had no idea what that date with Kurt would eventually lead to. Kurt had taught me a valuable lesson. I couldn’t trust men who seemed to be interested in me. I just wasn’t one of those girls men liked. Mick seemed like a good guy – I might even like him if I let myself – but he might also not be a good guy. I couldn’t open myself up to that kind of heartbreak again. I was happy with my life as it was. Why tempt fate?