TRUE TO HER WORD, MAG FOLLOWED UP on her Philippine and U.S. project team tasks as planned. Analyzing inter-departmental communication processes and streamlining failure points. She set up meetings to share initial findings between both divisions and forgot about her Excitement trial membership.
For three days, the trial bracelet lay dormant.
Buried near the bottom of her carry-all tote bag.
On the way to work, she called her parents and communicated plans to accompany Drew, en route to Pittsburgh in a few weeks,
“I’ll stay a few days. Then come back to San Francisco alone. Drew will stay there with his family. We’re not sure how long yet.”
“Let Drew’s mother know our prayers go out to the entire family,” said her mom.
“I will.” Mag sighed,
“It’ll be a sad visit. Drew’s brother and sister are staying a few days too. They’re dealing with a massive amount of family issues, managing arrangements that don’t involve me at all. I’m sure I’ll feel out of place. But it’s expected I guess.”
“Of course,” said her mom,
“Based on their father’s progressive state, they should all be prepared. Planning for his passing must take precedence. Do you know how much they’ve done so far?”
“No. But Drew mentioned his brother and sister haven’t helped much. They’re busy with their own families. That’s part of the reason he’s visiting. He wants to take charge of things before their father passes away. His mom is overwhelmed. She can’t take care of their dad and handle everything else too.”
“No one should expect that,” said her dad, “I can’t imagine how much heartache and struggle she’s dealing with.”
“Yeah. I feel for her. Actually, it’s strange. Before all this happened Drew and I spent the night at his parent’s house a few times. His mom was super nice to me. We stayed up late talking about all kinds of stuff. And after Drew and I came back home, I used to talk to her on the phone when she called Drew. But since Drew’s dad got sick, I haven’t spoken to her at all. The other day, Drew showed me a recent photo of her. Oh my Gosh, she lost so much weight I barely recognized her. She looked frail and tired.”
“Well, it’s a good thing Drew is going there. Hopefully, he can get things back on track and help his mum. Be sure to keep us in the loop and let us know how things go.” said her dad.
“And you be careful too.” Her mother spoke hurriedly, “Don’t let yourself get overly depressed while you’re there. Take time and do something for yourself like go for a walk or take a drive.”
“I was thinking the same thing. I know it’s not about me. But I can tell if I get overly absorbed in everything that’s happening, I’ll get really sad and depressed.”
“Call us whenever you want. It doesn’t matter what time.” said her dad.
“Thanks, Dad. I love you both.”
FEELING SADDENED, she did her best to avoid drama throughout the day.
Steering clear of Susan.
Researching Pittsburgh flights and reacquainting herself with the Steel City.
She didn’t look forward to spending time at Drew’s parent’s home, but at least she could speak with Rebecca about the impending trip. However, even with Rebecca, she couldn’t vocalize the total sum of her feelings.
Mag contemplated… I wish I didn’t have to go to Pittsburgh. Why can’t Drew go alone? What comfort will my presence provide? If the situation were reversed and one of my parents was dying; I wouldn’t want him to go with me.
I’d go alone.
Pondering these thoughts throughout the day.
An uneventful day. Neglecting to accomplish any real work.
The high note of her day was an invitation from Monica to join co-workers for happy hour.
Mag thought… a drink sounds nice.
THE GROUP MET AT THE SPORTS-PAGE. An old Mountain View watering hole, which over the past decade had been overrun by techies from neighboring corporations. Its dated, stale beer infested interior was uninviting. But outside, an open area back patio lay crowded with customers, conversing in the sun.
The early evening weather provided an unusually warm environment for Autumn as streams of light cascaded the space. Refracting beams through glasses and pitchers that littered tabletops.
As usual, Monica dominated conversation at their table.
Recounting various U.S. cities she visited and describing shockful events witnessed at each location.
A shoplifter chased and beaten in New York City…
‘He ran pretty fast to get away and flew right past me. But the shopkeeper must’ve been an alternate for the Olympics. He chased that dude down in less than a block. Then pistol-whipped him like he stole something. Cause, yeah. He actually did steal something.’
A motorcyclist T-boned in Miami…
‘Totally crazy. He flew like a wingless bird for fifteen feet. Then hit the ground and flip-flopped for twenty feet. After that, he got up like nothing happened. He seemed fine. But his bike looked like a pretzel. I couldn’t tell which end was up.’
And a lifeless body lying beside a freeway accident in Houston…
‘Other people who seemed like they were involved in the accident, stood far from the body. I think it was a guy. Someone’s jacket covered his face so I couldn’t see it. But his legs laid in awkward, impossible angles. He didn’t move at all. My seven-year-old nephew was asleep in the back seat when we drove by. Thank God he didn’t see anything.’
Though each tale was passionately explained, the overbearing nature of Monica’s one-woman show drove Mag to boredom.
By the end of her fifth recollection, she needed a break and excused herself.
Walking to an outdoor kitchen window to order food.
She grabbed a menu and a stranger commented over her shoulder casually,
“Don’t order the Potato sliders. I got them last week. Incredibly horrible.”
“I haven’t tried them yet.” She tilted her head in the stranger’s direction, “I usually order chicken strips and fries.”
“Yeah. The strips are pretty good. And safe.”
He moved closer and peered further, over Mag’s shoulder. Sharing the view of her menu, “Have you tried the wings yet?”
He pointed at their menu location.
“Yeah, they’re okay.”
“Have you tried them smothered in Barbecue sauce?”
“I don’t think so.” Mag’s eyes rolled high, trying to recall. “I don’t think mine had any sauce.”
The stranger moved closer and positioned his head next to her,
“Listen. I’ll tell you a secret. But you have to promise you’ll only tell the cool kids.”
Sensing his encroachment, she adjusted her eyes. Absorbing his appearance.
Brown sugar skin.
Soft Asian-Indian features with tightly trimmed five o’clock shadow and Hazel eyes. He stood a few inches taller than her, with short-styled black hair and a gentle British accent.
“That depends,” said Mag. “Who are the cool kids?”
He looked into her eyes. “People with names like…” His eyebrows raised and head tilted. A non-verbal queue for Mag to divulge her name.
“It’s Mag. My name’s Mag.”
“That’s a cool ass name. You’re the first Mag I’ve ever met.”
She blushed, “It’s actually short for Magenta. But everyone calls me Mag.”
The stranger’s face perplexed, “But the way you’re pronouncing Mag sounds like the first three letters in Magazine. Not Magenta.”
“I know,” she grinned, “It’s confusing. When I was young, my parents pronounced my nickname the way it sounds in Magenta. But I hated it. So they changed it to Mag. Like in Magazine. But even after that, my mom sometimes calls me Maggie which makes no sense at all.”
“I see.” He nodded,
“You’re the first Magenta I’ve ever met too. Today’s my lucky day.” He placed his hand on Mag’s shoulder, nonchalantly, “My name is Brad Pitt. I know it sounds weird. But I swear on someone’s mother’s grave, I’m a few days older than the world famous Brad Pitt. So, that makes me the original Brad Pitt. He’s number two.”
Examining Brad’s face, Mag waited for him to smile.
But he stilled, like a stone.
She pondered… are you serious?
A moment of silence, broken by Brad’s laughter.
“Okay! My name’s not Brad Pitt.” He giggled,
“It’s not even close. But I had you going for a proper minute didn’t I?”
Mag chuckled, “Yeah! You did! I was thinking… no friggin way!”
“Could you imagine an Indian guy named Brad Pitt? That would be crazy, right?”
Mag nodded, “There probably is an Indian guy named Brad Pitt somewhere.”
“You may be right! What a poor sod that fellow is. Hey!”
Fake Brad’s eyes lit fire, “Have you ever seen the movie Office Space?”
He motioned quickly, changing subjects like a driver shifting gears.
Mag shook her head. “No. I don’t think so.”
“It’s an old movie. But really funny. Anyway, there’s a character in the movie named Michael Bolton. And this character detests the real Michael Bolton. He hates Michael Bolton, the singer; who happened to be insanely famous at the time the film was released.”
“In one scene… these down-sizing auditors are interviewing the Michael Bolton character at his job. The auditors are determining who gets laid off in his office. The Michael Bolton guy is super nervous. He doesn’t want to lose his job. Anyway, after he sits for his interview, the auditors read his name out loud. And one of them says… ‘Oh my God! Is your name Michael Bolton? How cool is that!?’”
Fake Brad’s eyes blazed and his arms moved jaggedly. Reimagining the film scene as if describing it to a close friend.
“Then both auditors tell him how much they love the singer Michael Bolton. There are only two auditors in the scene with him and both of them marvel at how the real Michael Bolton is the best singer ever! There’s no one better than Michael Bolton! Then one of them says… ‘Ohhh. You must get this type of attention all the time, right? You’re probably sick of it?’”
Mag was drawn in by her storyteller’s excitement. She’d never seen the movie and normally wouldn’t care. But while watching and listening to fake Brad, worrisome thoughts that had pestered her mind throughout the day… escaped into nothingness.
“The Michael Bolton character wants to tell the truth and say he hates the singer, but if he says that, he might lose his job. So instead he squirms in his chair and says… ‘No. I’m not sick of it.’” Then one of the auditors says… ‘Of course, you’re not! How could you be? Michael Bolton is amazing! You’re so lucky to have his name. He’s the greatest entertainer ever!’”
Fake Brad grinned softly. “It’s hilarious.”
Mag smiled and nodded as he continued, “Then one of the auditors asks him… ‘What’s your favorite Michael Bolton song? Your absolute all-time favorite?’ And the character squirms again. He looks queasy and stutters… ‘I – I don’t know.’ Then the auditors says… ‘Exactly! They’re all amazing songs! How could you pick just one!?”
“It’s really a humorous scene,” said fake Brad. “You should watch the entire movie. Maybe on a lazy Sunday when you’ve got nothing better to do. It’s astonishingly good.”
His voice slowed, returning to conversational pace, “I failed to grant the scene any justice. Actually I bantered like a crazy person. It’s horrible what I just put you through, I’m so sorry.”
“No. It was funny.”
“You’re too kind. Also, you completely distracted me.” He recollected his demeanor, “How did I get started on that awful story?”
“We were talking about the Indian Brad Pitt.”
“Ahh, yes.” Fake Brad raised his index finger, “And… I was gonna tell you my real name; it’s Patel. Lance Patel. It’s amazingly nice to meet you Mag.” He extended his hand for proper introduction and Mag did the same.
“Nice to meet you too.”
“I’m sure my friends are wondering where I buggered off too. I should get back.”
He turned to walk away and Mag blurted.
“So what’s the secret?”
“What?” Lance turned back, sporting a quizzical expression.
“You said there was a secret you were gonna tell me.”
“Ohhh!” His eyes shined, “I did say that. Wow! You’re incredibly sharp!”
He moved in close, “I was going to tell you. If you ask the cooks back there…” Pointing to the kitchen. “To give you chicken wings with barbecue sauce number ninety-nine. They’ll give you super secret barbecue sauce with Jack Daniels and Tequila blended in at no extra charge. And…”
He positioned his lips close to Mag’s ear and whispered.
“It tastes better than sex.”
Mag jerked back, “Really!? Are you serious?”
“No! I’m not serious at all Mag! And to be quite honest. At this point in our relationship, you should already know that about me! I’m an amazing liar.” He pointed to the kitchen and smiled broadly. “Those cooks will have no clue what in heaven’s name you’re rambling about. They’ll think you’re clinically insane. And rightfully so!”
He moved close to Mag’s ear again.
“Besides, nothing tastes better than sex.”
Mag grinned. Blushing as Lance smiled softly in return. “Take care Mag. It was an absolute pleasure meeting you.” Cradling her right hand in his own, he raised it to his lips and kissed her fingers softly before vanishing away.
RECEIVING HER CHICKEN STRIPS, she returned to her co-workers, riding an invisible cloud.
“What took you so long?” said Monica.
“Oh. Nothing. I was talking with some guy about food.”
Mag devoured chicken at competitive eating pace.
Barely speaking a word in conversation.
She eventually escaped to the solitude of her vehicle and smiled; grateful to be alone.
Exhaling… she enabled her car’s Bluetooth and raised the volume.
A torrent of music surrounding her.
All remaining stress… drifted away.
Entering the freeway. She day-dreamed amid an eruption of R&B video scenes she’d watched in the past.
Thoughts sailing carelessly. Waving in tranquil images.
Envisioning an hourglass silhouetted woman, standing in high heels.
Her hips, oscillating in front of a shirtless seated man.
His body, shadowy.
Eyes fixated on her.
The woman stood straight-legged. Hips-bent.
Hands pressed on the man’s knees.
Her arching back and curved thighs possessed his world.
In this moment… he belongs to her.
ARRIVING HOME, EUPHORICALLY RELAXED.
Willfully seduced by the effects of desire during her drive.
She entered her apartment and noticed Drew had prepared dinner.
Cranberry Sauce… I’m not hungry for that.
He sat on the sofa, watching television as she sauntered on her tiptoes.
Stopping in front of him. She blocked his view,
“How was your day?”
Drew squinted. Sneering,
“Why are you standing in front of the TV?” He angled his head around her frame.
Mag stayed unphased. Teasing, “No reason.”
She pulled her skirt over her thighs and straddled Drew’s knees, then sat in his lap. Caressing his stubbly cheeks with her palms.
Moistening her lips. She pressed them like feathers against Drew’s.
“I hope your day was good.”
Shifting her bosom into his view. She angled her head around Drew’s shoulder and kissed the base of his neck.
Her tongue tracing a line from collarbone to ear.
Pulling her body in. He pressed his frame against hers and Mag whispered into his ear, assertively.
“Make love to me.”